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N.J. school board fires teacher whose students sent get-well cards to cop killer

  • Mumia Abu-Jamal leaves Philadelphia's City Hall after a hearing in 1995.

    Mumia Abu-Jamal leaves Philadelphia's City Hall after a hearing in 1995.  (ap)

  • The school in Orange, N.J., where Marilyn Zuniga taught. (Photo: Screen grab from CBS New York.)

    The school in Orange, N.J., where Marilyn Zuniga taught. (Photo: Screen grab from CBS New York.)

A school district in North New Jersey fired a third-grade school teacher, Marilyn Zuniga, who allowed her students to write get-well letters to a convicted cop killer.

The decision was made after a heated 90-minute debate at a school board meeting on Tuesday night that was open to the public.

It took the board members three minutes to approve unanimously a “personnel agenda” that included her dismissal, NJ.com reported.

The contents of the agenda weren’t explained to the assembly.

Zuniga was suspended without pay on April 10 after it came out that her students wrote to convicted killer Mumia Abu-Jamal after he was hospitalized for what his family said was treatment for complications from diabetes. 

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The former Black Panther is serving a life sentence for the 1981 killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

According to NJ.com, the board’s vice president, Jeffrey Wingfield, would not discuss whether or not Zuniga had been fired after the board meeting. “Let her tell you,” he told the news outlet. “I want her to tell you.”

In fact, school superintendent confirmed to NJ.com on Wednesday that Zuniga’s termination was part of the approved personnel agenda.

A first-year teacher at Forest Street Elementary School in Orange, Zuniga said her students asked to write the letters to Abu-Jamal after she told them that he was ill. She tweeted about having delivered their notes to a member of his legal team, but her .

After the story was reported, school officials said they had no prior knowledge of the letters and that the teacher didn’t seek approval or notify parents about the class’s "unauthorized activity."

At the school board meeting Tuesday, civil rights activists and educators spoke on Zuniga’s behalf. Parents and law enforcement offices argued that she should be fired.

"My students need me in the classroom. My students have requested that I come back to the classroom," Zuniga told the board, according to NJ.com. "They miss me and they've been asking for me, and that's what's most important. No one is thinking about the students."

Zuniga's lawyer, Alan Levine, told the Associated Press that by firing her board members "abdicated their responsibility" to the community and the children.

He says Zuniga may take legal action to regain her job, which could involve arbitration or a lawsuit.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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