Struggle builds against racist principal in Queens, N.Y.

July 8 anti-racist rally, Manhattan.WW photo: Anne Pruden

July 8 anti-racist rally, Manhattan.
WW photo: Anne Pruden

A multinational show of unity took place in front of the office of New York City School Chancellor Dennis Walcott at the Department of Education in lower Manhattan July 8 to protest alleged horrendous racist comments made by Principal Minerva Zanca against two nontenured African-American teachers. Zanca is principal of Pan American International High School (PAIHS) in Elmhurst, Queens, N.Y., whose students are predominantly Spanish speaking.

Assistant Principal Anthony Riccardo filed an affidavit with the school board against Zanca, stating he heard her use racial epithets during post-observation conferences against Heather Hightower and John Flanagan during the 2012-2013 school year. Both teachers had been fired by Zanca, who charged them with “poor performances.”

A third African-American teacher who is tenured, Lisa-Erika James, is leaving the school after Zanca severely gutted the budget for her theater program. All three teachers are filing a discrimination claim against the principal. There are no other African-American teachers at the school.  Zanca now threatens to terminate Riccardo’s job.

A July 5 press release, posted on the New York Collective of Radical Educators website (, read in part, “We demand that there is a full investigation into these allegations and, if they are substantiated, that the DOE hold the principal accountable to its zero-tolerance policy against discrimination. We also demand that the discontinuances of the personnel involved (Teachers John Flanagan and Heather Hightower and AP Anthony Riccardo) be reversed.”

Endorsers for the July 8 protest included teachers and staff from PAIHS and around the city; Councilperson Julissa Ferreras; Assemblyperson Francisco Moya; Kevin Powell and BK Nation; United Federation of Teachers, Movement of Rank and File Educators; New Action/UFT; Badass Teachers Association; Man UP; Hiphop SUV; Island Voice; Campaign to End the New Jim Crow; International Action Center; New York Collective of Radical Educators; NYCORE People of Color Caucus; and Peoples Video Network.

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