NYC principal allegedly called black teachers ‘nappy-headed’ and ‘big-lipped,’ then fired them

July 9, 2013

A high school principal in Queens has come under fire for allegedly using racist language about two black teachers and unfairly firing them.

The principal, Minerva Zanca of Pan American International High School in the lower-middle class neighborhood of Elmhurst, allegedly described the teachers as “big-lipped,” “nappy-headed” and “gorillas,” reports CBS New York.

Assistant principal Anthony Riccardo filed an affidavit against Zanca containing the charges. In the affidavit, he claimed to have heard the principal hurl the slurs in private, post-observation conferences during the most recent school year.

Riccardo claimed that Zanca said one teacher “looked like a gorilla in a sweater,” reports WNYC. He said she called another teacher’s hair “nappy” and declared, “I could never have hair like that.”

Riccardo told WABC that the principal tried to fire him this spring as well — apparently unsuccessfully — after he filed the affidavit.

Zanca cited “poor performances” when she fired the two teachers, John Flanagan and Heather Hightower.

Flanagan asserted that he had no previous 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,” Flanagan said, according to CBS New York.

Hightower said she plans to find another line of work.

“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,” she said.

A third black teacher, Lisa-Erica James, submitted her resignation because Zanca eliminated the theater program she oversaw.

“We’re the only African-American teachers, and all three of us have left — which means there is no African-American teachers at the school when over half the population of the students look like us,” James said, according to CBS.

The Department of Education has responded to the allegations by acknowledging receipt of the complaint — presumably the assistant principal’s affidavit — and promising to investigate.

On Monday, a group of teachers and activists protested the sackings at the New York City Department of Education Headquarters. They demanded that the chancellor of the city schools, Dennis Walcott, conduct and “immediate, rapid an unbiased investigation.”

Workers World, the broadsheet of the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist Workers World Party, points to a July 5 press release from the New York Collective of Radical Educators. “We demand that there is a full investigation into these allegations,” it says.

A Facebook event page entitled, appropriately, “Protest NYC Principal Who Called Teachers ‘Gorillas,’ ‘Nappy-Haired,’ and ‘Big-Lipped.’” was created for the protest. The number of people who had indicated they were going was 121; the number of maybes was 40; the total number invited was 2,753.

The total number of demonstrators who did show up is unclear.

The Pan American International High School serves immigrant students who are still learning to speak English. The overwhelming majority of the students are Hispanic. Statistics at US News say that 100 percent of the population represents some minority and 84 percent is economically disadvantaged.

According to the website for the Internationals Network for Public Schools, Zanca has 24 years of teaching experience and has obtained advanced degrees from both Columbia University and St. John’s University.

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