“Unfortunately I can’t give you more details, but I can say that the reasons that are cited have never been an issue for any termination of any employee at Pontiac Academy for Excellence,” said Superintendent Jacqueline Cassell.
Brooke Harris, the fired teacher in question, said yesterday that students in her class approached her a few weeks ago wanting to organize a fundraiser in which each student would pay $1 to stray from the school’s standard dress code to wear hoodies to school.
They would be similar to the hoodie worn by Martin when he was shot and killed in Sanford, Florida last month.
The principal signed off on the fundraiser, according to Harris, but Cassell said he did not. Harris said she asked if students could meet with Cassell to make their case for having the fundraiser, and she was suspended for two days.
“I was told I was a bad teacher, that I was being unprofessional, 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.
Harris came to the school while serving out her suspension, which she said was mainly to drop off prizes for a literacy fair she helped organize. Harris said her suspension was then extended to two weeks. When she questioned it with Cassell, she was fired instead.
“I was astonished. I couldn’t figure out what I did wrong,” Harris said.
Cassell said she couldn’t discuss the matter further due to legal reasons, but she said she has no problem with students expressing their views about the Martin case. She said she used to be a member of the SPLC.
“I am a child of the ’60s. I lived the Civil Rights Movement. If anybody has a reason to want to be sympathetic, empathetic, the whole nine yards, it would be me,” Cassell said. “I certainly would not use this issue as a reason to terminate anybody.”
She said she didn’t approve the fundraiser simply because it wouldn’t be appropriate for students to wear the hoodies in the manner they had planned, with the hoods over their heads. She said she was concerned for the students’ safety due to the fact that they could then become targets of youth or law enforcement. According to Harris, however, the students didn’t intend to wear the hoodies that way all day long.
The SPLC has a petition online at http://www.change.org demanding that Harris be reinstated.
Harris said she’s not sure what her next step is now.
“I want my job back, but I’m not entirely sure if that’s even possible,” she said.
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