A third grade teacher in New Jersey has been suspended after having her students write “get well” letters to Mumia Abu-Jamal, an inmate convicted of killing an officer.
Orange Superintendent Ronald Lee provided a statement from district officials that heavily criticized teacher Marylin Zuniga for assigning students to Abu-Jamal, a former death row inmate.
According to NJ.com, school officials claim that they “vehemently deny” having prior knowledge of the assignment and assert that Zuniga failed to seek approval and did not inform parents of this “unauthorized activity.”
“The Orange Public Schools was surprised to learn through recent news reports that one of its teachers, Ms. Marilyn Zuniga, a third grade teacher at Forest Street Elementary School, involved her students in a ‘get well’ letter writing assignment to convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal,” the statement reads.
“The school’s principal and district administrators vehemently deny that it had any knowledge of the assignment and preliminary inquiries find that no approval was ever sought nor were parents notified about this unauthorized activity,” it continues to read.
“The incident reported is in no way condoned nor does it reflect curriculum, program or activities approved by the district.”
School officials say they will begin a full investigation once staff and students return Monday from spring break.
“Ms. Zuniga will be immediately suspended with pay until such time the investigation is completed and based upon the results of the investigation additional action may be taken by the Board of Education,” the statement reads. Zuniga has yet to respond to a message asking for a comment.
Further comment was declined by district officials on the matter, “because it has now become a personnel issue.”
Abu-Jamal, 60, is currently serving a life sentence for killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981 and has recently been suffering from complications related to diabetes. He received a new sentence in 2008 after a federal appeals court upheld his conviction. Even though he was removed from death row, he will now serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Zuniga tweeted about the letters being delivered to Abu-Jamal on her currently deactivated account. The tweet reads:
Just dropped off these letters to comrade Johanna Fernandez. My 3rd graders wrote to Mumia to lift up his spirits as he is ill. #freemumia
— Marylin (@Marylin_Zuniga) April 5, 2015
Fernandez is a professor in the Departments of History and of Black and Latino Studies at Baruch College in New York City and also a member of an organization called “Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal.” The group advocates
Abu-Jamal’s innocence in the killing of the officer. She is also a coordinator of the “Campaign to Bring Mumia Home.”
Fernandez wrote on her Facebook page Monday about her visit to see Abu-Jamal the previous Friday when she delivered letters from Zuniga’s students along with a group of Philadelphia High School students.
“We shared a touching moment with Mumia in an effort to raise his spirits,” Fernandez wrote in the Facebook post.
“Two teachers delivered letters to us that their students had written to Mumia. One batch came from a 3rd grade class taught by Ms. Marylin Zuniga in Orange, New Jersey. The other batch was from a group of high school students in the Philadelphia Student Union, which fights for school reform and is led by Mr. Hiram Rivera.
“It had been a long time since we had seen Mumia smile. He chuckled as he read excerpts from these touching letters.”
Fernandez has yet to reply to messages seeking comment.