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Civil rights leaders rally for fired teacher in Trayvon Martin fundraising case


This news story was published on April 11, 2012.
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By Megha Satyanarayana, Detroit Free Press –

DETROIT — Local civil rights leaders spoke out Tuesday against the firing of Pontiac teacher Brooke Harris, who lost her job after trying to help students raise money in honor of slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin.

The leaders held a rally in Detroit for Harris, demanding Pontiac Academy for Excellence rehire her, and condemning school officials for playing into racist stereotypes for denying students the chance to raise funds by wearing hoodies on a recent out-of-uniform day.

“You should not be penalized for an article of clothing that you are wearing,” said the Rev. Charles Williams II of Historic King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit.

Others condemned school officials for quashing a teaching moment in a case that has commanded the country’s attention.

Martin, dressed in a hooded sweatshirt, carrying candy and a soda, was shot and killed Feb. 26 by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. Under a Florida self-defense law, he remains uncharged.

The students at PAE wanted to turn an out-of-uniform day into a $1 fundraiser — wear a hoodie, donate a dollar and the school would donate the money to the teen’s family.

“It’s logical that the students would be the ones to take the lead,” said Ron Scott of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality about the yearbook students Harris taught.

Students returned from spring break Monday to find a popular teacher gone.

Parent Marylou Distry said she had heard Harris didn’t follow protocol in asking permission for the fundraiser. She said students showed up in hoodies with Martin’s image on it, even though they had no permission. She said Harris was bound by the school’s rules to stop them.

“I love Ms. Harris,” Distry said. “She’s a nice person. What kind of message are you sending the kids if you let a teacher break the rules?”

But Harris is adamant that she followed school protocol. She was suspended March 27. She returned to school during the suspension to drop off teaching materials and her suspension was increased to two weeks.

She challenged the suspension, and on March 29, was fired for what she said were claims she was being an activist and not a teacher.

In an apparent show of solidarity with their teacher, Harris said she received a photo of a student wearing a hoodie on that out-of-uniform day in defiance of school orders.

Calls to Superintendent Jacqueline Cassell for clarification were not returned, but on Monday she said that the fund raiser is not why the teacher was fired.

As a charter teacher, Harris is not represented by unions, but said she would gladly go back if reinstated.

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