Two teachers that were preparing for tenure this year were denied and subsequently fired by a principal that referred to them as “having big lips” and “nappy hair.” John Flanagan, a Spanish Language teacher, and Heather Hightower, an ESL-Science teacher, were the targets of these remarks by Minerva Zanca, principal of Pan American International High School in Elmhurst, Queens, New York.
These two teachers, as well as tenured Theatre teacher Lisa-Erika James, have filed a discrimination claim against Principal Minerva Zanca within the Department of Education—Office of Equal Opportunity—for poor performance ratings and undue budget cuts that they feel were racially motivated.
Assistant Principal Anthony Riccardo, who is also filing a harassment claim against Ms. Zanca, uncovered these comments in a written statement that discloses, in vivid detail, the targeting of these three teachers over the course of the 2012-2013 school year. In Post-Observation Conferences with Mr. Riccardo, Zanca states that Ms. Hightower “looked like a gorilla in a sweater with nappy hair” and asked, “Did you see his big lips quivering?” in reference to Mr. Flanagan.
"It is not only important to have high standards for our public school teachers,” says Kevin Powell, President of BK Nation. “But we must also support the good ones, like these teachers, who are completely dedicated to their young people. I find it unacceptable that a principal can engage in this kind of conduct without any repercussions. We are not going to stop until due justice and process is served here. We are calling on the school district and the DOE to review this matter thoroughly, to deal with the facts fairly, and to make it clear that racial bias and mistreatment of teachers in any form is not tolerated in New York City.
The New York City Department of Education’s Chancellor's Regulation A830 is a strict antidiscrimination policy that protects its employees from discrimination based on
race/color/ethnicity/gender and sexual orientation. The three teachers feel their Civil Rights have been violated and in return are pursuing their complaint in the hopes of getting their jobs back. Ms. James is asking that Ms. Zanca be held fully accountable in compliance with the Chancellor’s Regulations. Ms. James states “It is deeply disappointing that Ms. Zanca has made such hurtful racial epithets and is allowed to run a school where many of the children are of Afro-Latino descent.” There are currently no African American teachers left at the school.
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