A recent biased news frenzy led by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has targeted Marilyn Zuniga, a third-grade teacher in Forest Street Elementary School in Orange, NJ. As a result, she has been suspended for supporting her students' wishes to send get-well letters to the imprisoned and gravely ill Mumia Abu-Jamal, one of the most celebrated, black public intellectuals of our time.
Click here to send an email to Ronald Lee, Superintendent of Schools in Orange, NJ.
The press has failed to explain that Ms. Zuniga made student participation voluntary, that she in no way forced student compliance, and that the letter-writing was an extra project they were allowed to complete only after finishing regular assignments. Prior to this incident her mentor and principal had commended her for being a model teacher.
In this time of growing public exposure of systemic police violence against African Americans and Latinos, we must challenge any attempt by the FOP to determine what is taught in classrooms across our nation.
Nearly all scholars of African American history see Abu-Jamal as belonging to the American literary canon that includes figures and writers like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Angela Davis, Ella Baker, and Ida B. Wells. Teaching Abu-Jamal as part of this canon is consistent with the School District guidelines that encourage teachers to prepare content on "how the actions of Dr. MLK Jr., and other civil rights leaders served as catalysts for social change and inspired social activism in subsequent generations." (6.1.4.A.9 and 10). Abu-Jamal's work as a journalist and his intrepid prison writings amply meet such recommendations for course content.
The children's letters to Abu-Jamal are reminiscent of the hundreds of South African children who wrote letters to the imprisoned Nelson Mandela twenty to thirty years ago. Mandela was identified as a terrorist by the U.S. at that time. It took courage for teachers and students to write letters then, and it takes courage for teachers and students to write Abu-Jamal today.
Stand with Marylin Zuniga, and in the long line of those who have stood up in solidarity with the unjustly imprisoned.
Click to send an email to Ronald Lee, Superintendent of Schools in Orange, NJ.
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Educators' Letter to Ronald Lee, Superintendent of Schools