ORANGE, NJ — People’s Organization for Progress Chairman Larry Hamm and People’s Organization for Progress Minister of Information Zayid Muhammad issued an urgent press release regarding convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal’s health and former Forest Street School third-grade teacher Marilyn Zuniga’s ongoing legal battle with Orange public schools, on Monday, March 21.
“On March 21, the People’s Organization for Progress will join the International Human Rights Community in their outcry over the dangerous medical abuse facing Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is perhaps the world’s most well-known political prisoner,” said Muhammad on Monday, March 21.
“Abu-Jamal, still contesting his innocence over the killing of a Philadelphia officer, is enduring the worsening of symptoms as a consequence of his suffering Hepatitis C that prison officials have refused to treat. Last April, Abu-Jamal, now 61, went into diabetic shock and nearly died from a similar ordeal. P.O.P. co-sponsored a rally in Newark with the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition and others protesting the medical neglect. Supporters protested in some 15 cities that same weekend.”
Muhammad said Abu-Jamal recently had his death sentence overturned and was finally given access to family visits and some doctors examinations. “It was then that private doctors insisted that he be given the treatment appropriate for Hepatitis C. Prison officials have yet to even accept the treatable but dangerous diagnosis,” said Muhammad.
“We are appalled beyond words to learn that Mumia is still not being properly treated,” said Hamm on Monday, March 21. “Last year’s ordeal was also the background for an Orange teacher, Marylin Zuniga, coming under fire for having her third-grade students send get-well letters to Abu-Jamal. P.O.P. mobilized community support at the Orange school board in defense of Zuniga in calls to have her reinstated. Zuniga was ultimately terminated by the Orange Board of Education. She is now legally challenging her termination. P.O.P. is actively supporting her legal efforts.”
Zuniga’s employment in the district was terminated without public discussion via resolution at the Orange Board of Education meeting on May 13, 2015. Since then, she has filed a lawsuit against the Orange School District and the Board of Education, claiming they violated the New Jersey Sunshine Law by voting to fire her without announcing the resolution to do so was on the agenda for that night’s meeting and not giving the public a chance to comment on it.
According to Muhammad, she is seeking to have her termination voided because she was wrongly dismissed without a hearing, among other issues.
On Friday, Feb. 12, Superior Court Judge Stephanie A. Mitterhoff ruled Zuniga could continue pursuing her wrongful termination lawsuit against the Orange School District, her former employer. Zuniga came to the People’s Organization for Progress meeting on Thursday, March 3, to discuss her case.
Zuniga said attorney Alan Levine is the “main lawyer representing my independent legal team for the Sunshine Law case and potential federal lawsuit.” She also said she is being represented by lawyers from the New Jersey Education Association and Rutgers University in other legal matters related to her job termination last year.
“The last time I was here, I told you that the Orange public schools and Orange Board of Education had appealed my unemployment,” said Zuniga on Thursday, March 3. “That’s ridiculous. It has nothing to do with them. I filed a grievance. The NJEA has been representing me in that. We have to go through the process of arbitration. If it’s successful, then we will pursue a federal case.”
East Orange resident Tom Puryear, the president of the Oranges-Maplewood NAACP and the chairman of the state NAACP’s Education Committee, was at the Orange Board of Education meetings when Zuniga’s case was first tabled.
“The community came out and made a strong voice about how they feel about what they feel the teacher is doing in the school district,” said Puryear on Tuesday, April 14, 2015, at the board’s first meeting where Zuniga’s case was discussed. “Nobody said she was a bad teacher. If anything, America is a country of second chances and even if she made a mistake — and I don’t believe that she made a mistake — it seems to me that she should be given the opportunity to redeem herself, if necessary, and proceed. As someone said: We all make mistakes.”