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PORTSIDE  April 2012, Week 2

PORTSIDE April 2012, Week 2

Subject:

Teacher Fired for Teaching Students About Trayvon Martin

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Date:

Thu, 12 Apr 2012 22:24:44 -0400

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Teacher Fired for Teaching Students About Trayvon Martin

* 8th Grade Teacher Fired for Teaching Her Students About
  Trayvon Martin (BlackHistory.com)
* Teacher Fired over Trayvon Martin Fundraiser (Alice
  Pettway, Teaching Tolerance)
* From Ms. Harris' University Field Instructor (Joe
  Dziedzic)
* Sign the Petition

=====

8th Grade Teacher Fired for Teaching Her Students About
Trayvon Martin

BlackHistory.com
posted April 11, 2012
http://blackhistory.com/cgi-bin/blog.cgi?blog_id=229511&cid=10

Change.org--Brooke Harris loved her job teaching eighth
grade at an inner-city charter school in Michigan -- but
Brooke says she was fired for teaching her kids about
Trayvon Martin, an African-American teen who was recently
shot and killed because someone thought he looked
suspicious.

Brooke's kids had heard about Trayvon, and she saw they
wanted to know more in part because they identified with
him: "They are young, black and brown kids who walk to the
corner store after school every day," Brooke says. "They've
been stopped by police because they 'looked like' some kids
who did something illegal."

Many of Brooke's students wanted to go beyond writing essays
and classroom discussions -- they wanted to raise money for
Trayvon's family. For helping the kids plan the fundraiser,
Brooke says that she was suspended and eventually fired, and
that she was told, "you're a teacher, not an activist."

Now there's a petition on Change.org demanding that Brooke's
school, the Pontiac Academy of Excellence, give Brooke back
her job, and her students back their teacher. The folks
Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law
Center -- a group that does a lot of work to combat racism
-- started the campaign because they think it's wrong to
fire someone for teaching about Trayvon Martin.

Brooke brought the idea for a fundraiser to the school
superintendent, Jacqueline Cassell. Rather than embracing
the students' idea, Brooke says, Superintendent Cassell
rejected the fundraiser, then refused to meet with Brooke's
students when they wanted to appeal her decision.

It gets worse: Brooke says she was suspended for two days
just for asking for the meeting, and that when she tried to
clarify what she had done wrong, she was suspended for two
weeks, and then fired.

"I just feel bad for my kids," Brooke says. "I hope I
haven't let them down."

If thousands of people speak out for Brooke by signing the
petition to get her job back, Superintendent Cassell won't
be able to sweep the issue under the rug. Pontiac's next
school board meeting is in one week, so Brooke says it's
especially important to gather as many signatures as
possible before then.

==========

Teacher Fired over Trayvon Martin Fundraiser

by Alice Pettway 

Teaching Tolerance
April 9, 2012

http://www.tolerance.org/blog/teacher-fired-over-trayvon-martin-fundraiser

What do you do with a teacher who provides students with
authentic learning opportunities? A teacher who invests her
own resources to support students? A teacher who was voted
Teacher of the Year two of the last three years?

If you're Superintendent Jacqueline Cassell at the Pontiac
Academy for Excellence Middle School in Pontiac, Mich., you
fire her.

When Brooke Harris contacted us last week, her first concern
was not her career - it was her students. She worried that
she had let them down by not fighting harder for her job.
She worried that their essays on Trayvon Martin would no
longer be included in the school newspaper. She worried that
the superintendent in charge of their education would
continue to underestimate them.

We're worried about Brooke's students too.

Last month Brooke Harris' eighth-grade class asked her about
the "kid who was killed over some skittles;" she seized the
opportunity to bring her students' lived experiences into
the classroom - a strategy we and other experts advocate.

Brooke's students identify with Trayvon Martin. Many of them
are African American. Many have been stopped by police who
thought they looked suspicious.

In fact, her students engaged so deeply with the issue that
they asked to take it beyond essays and class discussions -
they wanted to take action to help Trayvon's family.

They, like many students across the nation, wanted to show
their support by wearing hoodies. Each student who
participated would pay $1. Proceeds would be donated to
Trayvon's family.

Again, Brooke saw a teachable moment. She and her students
began the formal process of organizing a school event.
Students wrote persuasive letters to the principal and
superintendent. Brooke and a co-worker filed the necessary
paperwork. The principal immediately signed off on the
fundraiser.

Superintendent Cassell was less enthusiastic. She refused to
approve the proposal, despite having supported many other
"dress down" fundraisers. Brooke's students took the
disappointment in stride, but asked to present their idea to
Cassell in person.

And that's when things got weird.

Brooke asked that a few of her students be allowed to attend
her meeting with Cassell. Outraged by the request, Cassell
suspended Brooke for two days. The explanation given - she
was being paid to teach, not to be an activist.

Those two days morphed into a two-week, unpaid suspension
when Brooke briefly stopped by the afterschool literacy fair
(she had previously organized) to drop off prizes (paid for
with her own money) and to pick up materials for several
students whose parents were unable to attend. Supporting her
students was insubordination.

The final offense? Brooke asked Cassell to clarify her
original transgression so she could learn from her mistake.
Cassell referred her to the minutes of their first meeting.
Still confused, Brooke again requested an explanation.
Cassell fired her.

The Pontiac Academy for Excellence is a nonunionized charter
school. According to Superintendent Cassell, Brooke's
contract makes no provisions for formal appeal, and Michigan
is an "at will" employment state. What does this mean to
Brooke? She has no right to an explanation of why she was
fired. She just was.

There is a reason Michigan's English Language Proficiency
Standards call for students to "engage in challenging and
purposeful learning that blends their experiences with
content knowledge and real-world applications." Students
learn better this way.

Real life is not clean. It is not clear cut. It is not safe.
But it is the world our students live in and they will be
required to navigate it as adults. Teachers must bring this
outside world into the classroom.

The only way this will ever happen is if we create an
environment in which teachers feel safe discussing
controversial issues with their students. Stories like
Brooke's are outrageous in their own right, but even worse,
they create an atmosphere of fear among teachers.

This fear is choking our educational system, but we can pry
its fingers loose if we work together. In Brooke's forced
absence, her students held their own, unsanctioned hoodie
day. They made their voices heard over the fear. So can you.

Sign our change.org petition calling for Brooke Harris'
reinstatement at the Pontiac Academy for Excellence Middle
School and tell administrators we will not tolerate the
silencing of our nation's best teachers.

[Alice Pettway is associate editor for Teaching Tolerance.]

==========

From Ms. Harris' University Field Instructor
http://www.change.org/petitions/fired-for-teaching-about-trayvon-re-hire-brooke-harris-at-pontiac-academy-for-excellence

I served as Ms. Harris' University Field Instructor at the
University of Michigan. I know Ms. Harris and her teaching
philosophy! She is a staunch advocate for children, and an
excellent teacher. She brings relevance and real-world
experience to her classroom to engage her students in
thinking and learning. This is the hallmark of teaching
excellence. Why anyone would want to prevent one of our
bright, young teachers from pursuit of academic freedom and
integrity, not to mention a relevant and meaningful learning
experience for her students is unfathomable to me! I would
hope that this injustice is rectified without further delay.
Please return Brooke Harris to her teaching position!

Joe Dziedzic

==========

Sign the Petition

Reinstate Brooke Harris at the Pontiac Academy for
Excellence Middle School

http://www.change.org/petitions/fired-for-teaching-about-trayvon-re-hire-brooke-harris-at-pontiac-academy-for-excellence

Greetings,

I'm writing to you today to call for the reinstatement of
Brooke Harris at the Pontiac Academy for Excellence Middle
School, Pontiac, Mich.

Ms. Harris' commitment to her students' education is
evidenced by her enthusiasm for bringing real-world
situations that relate to her students' lived experiences -
like the killing of Trayvon Martin - into her classroom. Her
competence, dedication, and passion have garnered the trust
and admiration of the parents and teachers who named her
Teacher of the Year two of the last three years.

Ms. Harris was summarily fired with no provision for appeal.

When teachers are afraid to address controversial issues in
their classrooms, students' education suffers and our
nation's best teachers are silenced. Brooke Harris is one of
these teachers, but you can give her voice back to her.

Please, support your students. Reinstate Brooke Harris.

Sincerely,

[Your name]

==========

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