The federal government has sued the New York City Department of Education over the alleged racist actions of a high school principal, arguing that city officials allowed the principal to systematically discriminate against black teachers — and to retaliate against an assistant principal who pushed back.
“It is nearly unthinkable that, in this day and age, one of the largest and most diverse school districts in the United States would allow racial discrimination and retaliation to flourish. Yet that is what we allege happened at Pan American International High School,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office filed the complaint in federal court last week Thursday.
The complaint accuses Minerva Zanca, the now-retired principal of the Queens high school, of referring negatively to black teachers’ racial characteristics.
The complaint also alleges that Zanca targeted untenured black teachers with poor performance reviews, saying it was the best way to push them out.
The suit said she told her assistant principal, Anthony Riccardo, that she intended to give those teachers poor ratings before she actually saw the lessons she was supposed to evaluate.
When Riccardo refused to give an unsatisfactory rating to one of the black teachers, Zanca accused him of “sabotaging her plan,” according to the complaint, and then called security to remove him from the school.
Zanca said that the allegations are false.
“I did not make those reprehensible and disgusting comments, and I’m outraged that they were attributed to me,” she said in an interview on Friday.
She accused Riccardo of manufacturing the allegations because he was a disgruntled employee, angry at her for her role in referring him to internal investigators with the city education department. Those investigators ultimately found no reason to charge Riccardo, according to the federal complaint.
Of the 27 teachers at Pan American International High during the 2012-2013 school year, three were black. Two of them were untenured and subject to dismissal if they received an unsatisfactory evaluation.
The third, who was tenured, taught the school’s theater courses and oversaw its theater productions.
In February 2013, on the day of the first student play of the year, the suit said, Zanca told the teacher that she would have to cancel that production because the school would not foot the bill for all its associated costs. The show went on only because the teacher paid out of her own pocket.
All three teachers received unsatisfactory job ratings in 2012-2013 and left the school. Riccardo, the assistant principal, also received an unsatisfactory rating and left the school.