Minerva Zanca, principal of the Elmhurst, New York-based Pan-American International High School, is reportedly being accused of referring to a number of African-American teachers at her high school as “gorillas” that have “big lips and nappy hair.” Now Zanca’s alleged racially charged comments have raised the ire of school personnel and activists, who descended upon the N.Y.C. Department of Education on Monday to protest Zanca’s abusive language and unfair firings, demanding an immediate and unbiased investigation of the allegations, according to the Huffington Post.
The school’s assistant principal, Anthony Riccardo, reportedly filed an affidavit against Zanca containing the alleged charges. In the document, the educator accuses Zanca of spewing the racial slurs at Black employees after classroom-observation conferences this past year, which he claims were done privately but uttered loud enough so that he could actually hear.
Riccardo, who claims that Zanca attempted to fire him after he filed the affidavit against her, says that his colleague commented about one teacher saying she “looked like a gorilla in a sweater.” The educator then said that Zanca allegedly made a snide racist comment about another teacher’s hair, calling it “nappy,” then stating, “I could never have hair like that.”
Reportedly, Pan-American only had three African-American educators and now none of them are teaching at the high school.
Zanca reportedly called two of the teachers, John Flanagan and Heather Hightower, “poor performers.” Flanagan, who alleges that he has never received a bad rating in all of his teaching career, was baffled by Zanca’s assessment of his duties.
“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.
In the filed affidavit, Riccardo stated that Zanca asked him after a meeting with Flanagan, “Did you see his big lips quivering?”
Meanwhile, Hightower was so turned off from her experience at Pan American that she has decided to stop teaching, “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 told CBS.
Hightower and Flanagan have since filed a complaint with the DOE’s Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO).
According to the third teacher, Lisa-Erica James, who was tenured, she 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.
The growing outcry over Zanca’s antics have also led to an online petition at Change.org, which has thus far garnered nearly 1,200 signatures demanding the educator’s ouster and is sponsored by BK Nation and joined by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators, the social justice caucus within the UFT; the New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCoRE); and the International Socialist Organization.
According to the New York Board of Education, Zanca has a clean record with no prior complaints lodged against her.