As its meeting stretched past midnight, the Orange school board on Wednesday voted to terminate the employment of a third-grade teacher for allowing her students to write “get well” letters to a convicted cop killer.
But that decision was not immediately clear after board members cast their votes.
Over the course of about 90 minutes inside the auditorium at Orange Preparatory Academy, supporters of Marylin Zuniga called for her reinstatement in public comments to the board.
Then, in under three minutes, the board unanimously approved a personnel agenda and abruptly adjourned the meeting without discussing or explaining what was just voted on.
Outside the school building soon afterward, school board Vice President Jeffrey Wingfield declined to explain whether the board had voted to terminate Zuniga’s employment.
“Let her tell you,” said Wingfield, referring to Zuniga. “I want her to tell you.”
After being contacted by a reporter, Orange Superintendent Ronald Lee confirmed in an email on Wednesday afternoon that the board had voted to terminate Zuniga’s employment as part of the personnel agenda.
“Lastly, as this is a personnel issue, I have no further comments on this matter,” Lee wrote.
In a phone interview on Wednesday, Zuniga’s attorney, Alan Levine, said that by firing her, school officials “abdicated their responsibility to the community and to the children of the school district.”
“They lost a teacher that everybody agreed was a remarkable teacher,” Levine said. “There isn’t a school district around that wouldn’t be happy to have Marylin Zuniga teach in it.”
Zuniga is now considering legal action to challenge her termination, which could take the form of an arbitration proceeding or a lawsuit, according to Levine.
A first-year teacher at Forest Street Elementary School, Zuniga has said her students asked her about writing the “get well” letters to Mumia Abu-Jamal after she told them he was gravely ill. She later posted a tweet about her students’ letters being delivered to Abu-Jamal.
Abu-Jamal, who was formerly on death row, is serving a life sentence for killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. Abu-Jamal has been hospitalized with complications from diabetes.
After learning about the students’ letters through news reports, school officialssuspended Zuniga with pay on April 10. In a statement at the time, officials said they had no prior knowledge about the letters, and said Zuniga did not seek prior approval or notify parents about this “unauthorized activity.”
Read more: nj.com