A Michigan teacher who attempted to help her students organize a fundraiser for the family of Trayvon Martin claims the incident prompted her firing in late March.
Brooke Harris, who taught journalism and literature at the Pontiac Academy for Excellence in Pontiac, Mich., said she was approached by students about the fundraiser, which would have allowed students to pay $1 to wear a hoodie for a day, rather than their school uniform.
The story of 17-year-old Martin, who was shot and killed in February by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., has drawn national attention. Martin was wearing a hoodie when he was killed, and the article of clothing has become a potent symbol in protests over his slaying and shows of support for the teen and his family.
Responding to students' interest in the case, Harris created reading and writing assignments about Martin, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group that is now advocating for Harris.
Maureen Costello, director of the SPLC's Teaching Tolerance program, said Harris followed teaching standards and educational advice by making Martin's case a teaching exercise. "What she did with engage her students in a real world issue," Costello told The Huffington Post.
According to SPLC, Pontiac Academy for Excellence Superintendent Jacqueline Cassell did not approve the fundraiser, and Harris was put on a two-day suspension for asking for students to be allowed to make their case for the event. When Harris came to school during the suspension to drop off prizes for a literacy fair, she was given a longer suspension. Harris alleges she was then fired after she asked Cassell for further explanation.
Cassell insists the hoodie fundraiser was not the cause of Harris' firing, telling the Detroit Free Press, "I lived the civil rights movement ... I certainly would not use this issue as a reason to terminate anybody."
She told the Associated Press that teachers should focus on learning, not activism, and that there are consequences for violating workplace rules.
But Costello says Harris was fired without due process. "We're calling for the [school's] board to step in and at least have a hearing," she said.
More than 8,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org calling for the school to reinstate Harris, and organizers have planned a rally to show support at King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit on Tuesday at 6 p.m.