Teacher Reportedly Fired for Supporting Trayvon Martin Fundraiser at School

April 11, 2012  |  

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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  • L-Boogie

    No, Brooke Harris should sue.  Her actions did not indicate disrespect or insubordination.  They need to start a petition for her.

  • I don’t want to cry race and I’m trying not to. It could’ve been a compliance issue BUT, I remember lots of school having fun raisers for things like cancer patients and fellow classmates who died in accidents like drunk driving accidents. These students were allowed to do what they needed and wanted. Maybe it’s because the case is still open. I’m really not sure what this was about. In all fairness, I would’ve let them.

  • Guest

    Ms. Harris was not fired for supporting Trayvon Martin. She was reprimanded for carrying out an activity not approved by her superiors, then fired for challenging the reprimand. All she had to do was ask permission, respect her superiors, be informed about what she could and could not do, and none of this would have happened.  Her demise is her own fault.

    Oh, Ms. Harris, will you be trying to raise funds to support the many other African-American youth across the country fallen victims to similar circumstances? I doubt it.

    Oh Ms. Harris, did you see a possible opportunity to propel yourself into the media spotlight? Was this an opportune time to strategically orchestrate your own demise. Is there a lucrative career opportunity looming in the near future? Hmmm…

    Jaqueline Cassell, the Superintendent of this particular school, is African-American.  

    Why does this, purportedly, Black teacher, Ms. Harris, have a problem complying by the terms of employment under which she was hired, and by rules established by her superior?

     I think this teacher is race baiting.

    Could she simply be upset that she couldn’t get away with not complying and is throwing a race card out in revenge?

    Who does this teacher thinks she is where she can just deviated from the curriculum and just carry out an activity that has not been pre-approved by her superiors?

    Ya’ll sure this is about race?

    Ya’ll sure that the superintendent and school system are racist?

    Perhaps, Ms. Harris is racist.

    Perhaps, Ms. Harris can’t, despite being, or supposedly being black in identity, handle being managed by a black person. Perhaps she can’t respect the authority of her superior, Ms. Cassell, because she’s black. Perhaps, that is the root of this whole circumstance.

    If that’s the case, who’s the racist in this situation?

    People should consider this in accusing the superintendent and school administrators of being racist. Ms. Harris was negligent of school rules and disrespectful to her former boss. Ms. Harris was trying to establish her own rules.

    Who is Ms. Harris, compared to the rest of the teachers there, that she can just do as she pleases without notifying school administration? That’s what I want to know.

    Ms. Harris should have been fired. She was wrong. She could have followed school procedures and submitted a request, first, to get her activity approved.

    Would she happen to be related to Melissa Harris-Perry? Just asking.

    • JAY DUB

      Maybe you know more about this case than the article mentions but i fail to see where Ms. Harris is stating anything about racism or anyone being racist. All she asked for is an explanation as to why she was fired. No where in this article does it show her “playing the race card”.

  • Mrsjsincere

    I am growing tired of all these nazi members hideing behind their jobs now days opposed to sheets like the klan once adorned themselves in. A lot of what is going on in the news affect the children the most,so doing essays like the one the Teacher had her kids do is more accademic. This Jacquellline Cassell needs to be put in her place!

  • Misschris062002

    This is a mess. Everybody involved needs to understand that children are watching their responses in this whole situation..send the right message.

  • F3ral Anarchy

    Being fired for insubordination….  Technically she should have been fired for breaking her suspension.  When you are suspended from work you are NOT supposed go back until your suspension is complete.  This has more to do with child and coworker safety. The teacher should have asked the SI if she could be a part of the fundraiser during her suspension BEFORE stepping foot on school grounds.

  • Pingback: Teacher Fired For Supporting Trayvon Martin Fundraiser At School | Majic 102.3()

  • Brooke Harris was fired by Jacqueline Cassell because of hate.  Something is wrong with Jacqueline Cassell and it is a lot more than Brooke Harris.  Jacqueline Cassel says she is a child of the civil rights movement.  Which movement, the forward or he backward.  The forward happened when she was a child but the backward is what some of those who gained from the forward are doing for money, for friends, for favors or just out of ignorance.  Jacqueline Cassell is out of control and I hope Brooke Harris has enough fight to let the SPLC fight for her.  The SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER, will win if allowed to participate.  Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton do not like for the SPLC to get involved.  They dont do favors and they dont get money under the table, they kick behind.

    • Guest

       B.S. she was fired for non-compliance. Something is wrong with Brooke Harris. The involvement of SPLC is out of place because no one’s rights are being denied here. The activity Brooke Harris was trying to carry out was outside of the curriculum and unapproved. Otherwise, the children were receiving the educated entitled to them and mandated by their local government. This fundraising activity that Brook Harris came up with was spur of the moment, and no laws were  broken/violated when Jacqueline Cassell made the request that Harris cease her activity. However, state laws and employment rules were broken whe Brooke Harris failed to follow her boss’ orders.

      • Guest

        People are so pathetic for throwing the race card into this.