A Michigan teacher has been fired because she encouraged her students to plan a fundraiser for Trayvon Martin’s family in which each child would donate a dollar to wear a hoodie to school rather than their usual uniform.
Brooke Harris said she gave her 8th-grade journalism students a writing assignment on the Martin case and that the students expressed interest in raising money for his family; the school has fundraisers often which involve a “dress down” day for participants. Harris approached school superintendent Jacqueline Cassell about the idea but was told her class could not go forward with it. When Harris asked if her students could come before school officials to plead their case, she was suspended for “encouraging” the students to plan the fundraiser, and when Harris showed up at the school during her suspension–to drop off some items, she says–she was fired.
“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.”
“I was told … that I’m being paid to teach, not to be an activist. When I tried to defend myself, it was construed as insubordination,” Harris said.
More than 50,000 people have signed an online petition demanding that the Pontiac Academy for Excellence rehire Harris, but she isn’t sure that will happen.
“I want my job back, but I’m not entirely sure if that’s even possible,” Harris said. School officials deny that the fundraiser is the reason for her dismissal but won’t comment on it further.
A rep from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Dawud Walid, says the school’s decisions will only hurt the students.
“It taught the students who tried to organize and tried to raise their voice in terms of social justice that they will be repressed,” Walid said. “Instead of empowering our children … the Pontiac Academy is actually teaching children to internalize oppression and internalize racism.”