A Pontiac Academy for Excellence Middle School Detroit woman has been fired from her position as a literature teacher and she doesn’t know why, besides the fact that she supported a student-suggested fundraiser for Trayvon Martin.
According to the SPLC, a national civil rights group, Harris’ eighth-grade journalism students asked her about the death of the teen and she gave them an editorial-writing assignment on the shooting. Wanting to do more, the students suggested a fundraiser where they each could pay $1 to wear hoodies instead of school uniform for a day—a typical effort that’s done at the school.
The 26-year-old teacher said she approached school administrators “through the chain of command” and did everything “by the book” but Superintendent Jacqueline Cassell rejected the idea. As Harris was in the process of explaining the decision to the students, she was called for a meeting with Cassell and suspended for encouraging the students to make their request in person.
“I didn’t tell the kids, ‘Let’s go and do it anyway.’” Harris said. “I was actually, literally, in the process of talking to my kids about what we could do instead when (Cassell) requested the meeting with me and told me that I needed to let it go.”
During the two-day suspension, Harris was already scheduled to run another fundraiser, which she says she organized with her own money, so she didn’t want to miss it. But when she visited the school to drop off the prizes, Cassell suspended her for an additional two weeks without pay. After protesting the suspension, she was fired for “insubordination.”
Cassell has only spoken on the situation to say:
“I’m a child of the civil rights movement,” but “this is not the time in the school year” to distract students from academics.
“In every situation, there are work rules,” she added. “When rules are violated, there are consequences.”
From that quote it’s hard to tell whether the firing is more about following a suspension rule or trying to rally support for Trayvon Martin. Unfortunately, the school missed a teachable moment by believing discussion around a real-life event that’s likely to have a greater impact on these children’s lives than some of the things being taught in school is an academic distraction.
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the Academy’s decision was a “travesty” during a news conference yesterday morning at King Solomon Baptist church before a rally held for the teacher.
“It taught the students who tried to organize and tried to raise their voice in terms of social justice that they will be repressed. Instead of empowering our children … the Pontiac Academy is actually teaching children to internalize oppression and internalize racism.”
Harris says she hasn’t decided whether she wants to proceed with legal action against the school that she says she still loves. Right now she just wants an explanation.
“Whenever I discipline a kid in my classroom, I make sure they know what they did wrong,” she said.
Do you think Brooke Harris was rightfully fired over her suspension or did it have more to do with the Trayvon Martin fundraiser?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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