Elected officials, teachers and union leaders will rally on the steps of City Hall at 10 a.m. Jan. 20 to highlight the importance a lawsuit alleging that the DOE allowed a former principal of Pan American International High School to not only repeatedly discriminate against the school’s three black teachers, but also for firing the assistant principal in retaliation for pushing back against racist language.
The lawsuit was first filed in 2016 by then Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, claiming that in the 2012-’13 school year, former principal Minerva Zanca made comments about the appearances of teachers John Flanagan and Heather Hightower to assistant principal Anthony Riccardo. Zanca allegedly said that Flanagan had “big lips” and that Hightower “looked like a gorilla in a sweater,” adding that she could “never have f**king nappy hair like her.”
Zanca also allegedly tried to sabotage the popular theater program run by teacher Lisa-Erica James, arguing that there were not funds for the program in the school’s budget and claiming the school could not pay her for the over-time hour she accrued to oversee rehearsals.
“It is nearly unthinkable that, in this day and age, one of the largest and most diverse school districts in the United States would allow racial discrimination and retaliation to flourish,” said Bharara in a statement from 2016.
The lawsuit says that the DOE did not enact any disciplinary action and that Zanca continued to be the principal at the Elmhurst school for two years. The DOE has denied the claims in the lawsuit.
“This is not just about monetary damage inflicted on these teachers,” said former Pan American International High School teacher Peter Lamphere in a statement. ” It’s about justice and accountability in the schools and setting a precedent that our education system does not tolerate racism.”