NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Teachers and activists protested at the New York City Department of Education Headquarters on Monday, amid claims that a principal at a Queens school used insensitive language toward African-American teachers as she fired them.
The protesters demanded an “immediate, rapid and unbiased investigation” by Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s office, following allegations that principal Minerva Zanca, of Pan American International High School Elmhurst, called the teachers “big-lipped,” “nappy-headed,” and “gorillas.”
Two of the teachers were fired after Zanca allegedly made the comments about them in closed-door meetings with an assistant principal, according to activists. The third African-American teacher has chosen to transfer because of cuts to her theater program that activists claimed were racially motivated.
Teacher John Flanagan told 1010 WINS he was fired despite no problems on his employment record.
“For the past four years, I’ve gotten satisfactory ratings from the founding principal, and when she resigned, Minerva Zanca came on board, and basically targeted me from the very beginning, and removed me from the school,” he said.
Heather Hightower, who taught earth science for high school juniors and seniors, was also fired and said she is leaving teaching.
“I have no desire to return to the DOE,” she said. “I’m leaving teaching altogether, knowing that this system is in place, and knowing that no matter what I do, someone can still fire me for something I can’t change, is very disappointing.”
Tenured teacher Lisa-Erika James chose to transfer to a different school. With the three teachers’ departure, there are now no African-American teachers at the school at all, she said.
“We’re the only African-American teachers, and all three of us have left – which means there are no African-American teachers at the school when over half the population of the students look like us,” she said.
The Department of Education responded by e-mail to 1010 WINS, saying, “We have received the complaint and are investigating the allegations.”
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