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Queens Chronicle

Pan American High School teachers protest principal’s ‘racism’

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Posted: Thursday, July 11, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 5:17 am, Wed Dec 24, 2014.

Allegedly the principal at Pan American International High School in Elmhurst racially discriminated against the school’s three African-American teachers, according to 150 individuals crowding the City Department of Education’s steps Monday night and claims filed with the department.

According to reports, Principal Minerva Zanca called teachers John Flannagan and Heather Hightower racially charged names and graded them unfairly, leading to their termination. The third African-American teacher at the school, Lisa-Erika James, alleged earmarked funding for her theater program were withdrawn by Zanca because of her race.

Zanca took her position last fall and fired Hightower, who worked at the high school for three years, and Flannagan, who had been there for five, by the end of the year.

“Although many teachers were given unsatisfactory [evaluations], for various reasons, none were so ruthlessly targeted as John Flannagan and Heather Hightower,” Vice Principal Anthony Riccardo said in a statement to the DOE.

During the school year, Zanca and Riccardo evaluated eight teachers applying for tenure. The six non-African-American teachers were approved. The other 19 teachers at the school — which specializes in English as a Second Language curriculum and admits students who have emigrated from a Spanish-speaking country in the last four years — have tenure.

Hightower and Flannagan said Zanca gave little positive feedback for lesson plans prior and after evaluations and often distracted students during her sit-ins.

Riccardo said in December the conversations he had with Zanca about the evaluated teachers became racially charged.

Allegedly Zanca “remarked out the side of her mouth that Heather looked like a gorilla in a sweater.” Riccardo also said Zanca told him she had “a hard time not laughing in [Flannagan’s] face because every time she sees his face, it reminds her of a Tropicana commercial where this guy ‘with those same lips’ is dancing down the supermarket aisle.”

Zanca had no prior complaints against her, according to the DOE. She could not be reached for comment.

“It looked like no matter what the teachers did, it never seemed to be enough,” said Pan American math teacher and union representative Peter Lamphere. “It’s finally clear why that might be.”

Allegations regarding James do not include racial slurs, but she said in a statement to the DOE her theater program’s funding was cut because of her race.

Riccardo said the money was earmarked, but Zanca pulled the money for smartboards.

“Mr. Ricardo alleged she cut the successful theater program due to the fact that I am African American and has done everything in her power to get rid of every African-American teacher on staff,” said James, who was not fired but transferred from the school.

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