A New Jersey Third grade schoolteacher was fired on Tuesday for instructing her class to write “get well” letters to a convicted cop killer.
Marylin Zuniga taught at the Forest Street Elementary School in the city of Orange in northern New Jersey. In February, the first-year teacher had assigned her students to write about a quote by Mumia Abu-Jamal: “So long as one just person is silenced, there is no justice.”
In 1981, Abu-Jamal killed Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner (25 at the time of his death) during a routine traffic stop. A jury convicted Abu-Jamal of first degree murder and sentenced him to death. He spent the next 30 years on death row and then, through a series of appeals, had his sentence reduced to life in prison without parole.
Among the evidence presented at Abu-Jamal’s trial was the testimony of several witnesses who saw him kill Faulkner and the testimony of those who heard Abu-Jamal confess shortly after the crime, “I shot the mother f–ker and I hope the mother f–ker dies.”
The New York Times described the former Black Panther leader and president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists as perhaps “the world’s best known” death row inmate. Various celebrities and other liberal groups advocated on his behalf over the years.
When Abu-Jamal’s sentence was commuted to life in prison in 2001, Faulkner’s widow said the judge’s ruling ”comes as a tremendous emotional blow to my family.” She called Mr. Abu-Jamal a ”remorseless, hate-filled killer” who, through the judge’s action, ”will be permitted to enjoy the pleasures that come from simply being alive — pleasures he stole from Danny nearly two decades ago.”
Two months after Zuniga assigned her class the task of writing about Abu-Jamal’s quote, she told them he was now in a prison hospital suffering from complications due to diabetes.
She said her class wanted to write the 61-year-old prisoner ‘get well’ letters, so she gave them the assignment.
On April 5, she tweeted about delivering the letters for Abu-Jamal:
Just dropped off these letters to comrade Johanna Fernandez. My 3rd graders wrote to Mumia to lift up his spirits as he is ill. #freemumia
NJ.com reports that after learning of Zuniga’s “get well” letter assignment last month, the school suspended her with pay. The Orange Board of Education held a meeting on Tuesday night to determine whether to end her employment. The teacher and several of her supporters spoke, causing the meeting to run into the early hours of Wednesday morning. Afterwards, the board voted to fire Zuniga.
The Associated Press reports that Zuniga’s lawyer, Alan Levine, said board members “abdicated their responsibility” to the community and the children, adding Zuniga may take legal action to regain her job.
“They lost a teacher that everybody agreed was a remarkable teacher. There isn’t a school district around that wouldn’t be happy to have Marylin Zuniga teach in it.”
“School officials said they learned about the students’ letters through news reports. They said Zuniga did not seek prior approval or notify parents about this ‘unauthorized activity,’” the AP noted.