NLG Demands Reinstatement of New Jersey Teacher Marylin Zuniga, Suspended after Students Sent Get-Well Cards to Political Prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal


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NLG-NYC Chapter Member Alan Levine Representing Zuniga

NEW YORK—The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) stands with Marylin Zuniga, the third grade teacher at Forest Street Elementary School in Orange, NJ, who was suspended after her students wrote “get well” cards to the critically ill political prisoner and celebrated scholar, Mumia Abu-Jamal. Educators nationwide including Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, and Cornel West have signed an open letter to Orange School Superintendent Ronald Lee condemning Zuniga’s suspension. The NLG joins these voices in calling for her immediate reinstatement.

Zuniga first introduced her students to the award-winning journalist, author, and NLG Jailhouse Lawyer Vice President Mumia Abu-Jamal through his quote, “So long as one just person is silenced, there is no justice,” as part of a lesson on civil rights leaders during Black History Month. As the letter to Superintendent Lee explains, Zuniga is not alone in recognizing the educational value of his work: “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,” it said.

When Zuniga recently mentioned Abu-Jamal’s current medical state to her students, they asked if they could write him “get well” cards; Zuniga allowed this as a voluntary project only after all required coursework was completed. Under pressure from the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) which led the recent media campaign attacking Zuniga and has for decades attempted to discredit Abu-Jamal, the Orange Township School Board suspended her April 10.

A graduate of Columbia University’s Teachers College with a 3.9 GPA whom the Forest Street Elementary principal described as a “model teacher” in her 20-week evaluation, Zuniga has done more than integrate lessons of social justice into her curriculum. She has dedicated much of her spare time to coordinating community programs which aim to uplift and empower youth, such as the Maroon Project, Books and Breakfast (Newark), and Girls on the Run. As another open letter to Orange officials signed by more than 400 educators and scholars notes, “Ms. Zuniga demonstrated a multitude of positive strategies that many first-year teachers struggle with: she engaged students in real world issues and developed their academic skills on a project connected to their own authentic interest.”

Alan Levine, attorney for Marylin Zuniga and member of the NLG-NYC Chapter explained: “No serious educator could believe that there was any legitimate educational reason to remove Ms. Zuniga from the classroom. The haste with which school officials suspended Ms. Zuniga following the FOP’s highly publicized attack on her leaves no doubt what prompted their action. School officials are obliged to exercise their professional responsibilities without regard to pressure from groups whose goals have nothing to do with education.”

Marilyn Zuniga is clearly dedicated to the educational development of her students and the betterment of their community. As national awareness around racialized police violence continues to grow, our children’s education should be guided by teachers like Zuniga, rather than the agendas of interfering groups like the Fraternal Order of Police. “The NLG joins supporters nationwide in the #ISupportMarylin campaign, including her students and their parents, who believe Zuniga should be lauded—not chastised—for her exemplary work in education and social justice,” said President Azadeh Shahshahani.

The National Lawyers Guild was formed in 1937 as the nation’s first racially integrated bar association to advocate for the protection of constitutional, human and civil rights.

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