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Brooke Harris, Michigan Teacher, Fired For Helping Student Fundraiser For Trayvon Martin

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 04/10/2012 12:06 pm Updated: 04/10/2012 1:34 pm

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.

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  • Trayvon Martin Photos

    Benjamin Crump, attorney, for the family of the late Trayvon Martin, talks to the media after the release of 911 call at the Sanford City Hall on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Sanford, Fla. Martin, 17, was shot to death after being confronted by Sanford neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, 28, on February 26, 2012. Zimmerman told Sanford Police that he shot the unarmed black teenager in self-defense. Family members are calling for Zimmerman's arrest. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • Trayvon Martin Photos

    Benjamin Crump, attorney, for the family of the late Trayvon Martin, talks to the media after the release of 911 call at the Sanford City Hall on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Sanford, Fla. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • Trayvon Martin Photos

    Benjamin Crump, attorney, for the family of the late Trayvon Martin, talks to the media after the release of 911 call at the Sanford City Hall on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Sanford, Fla. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • Trayvon Martin Photos

    A memorial for the late Trayvon Martin sits at the neighborhood where he was shot on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Sanford, Fla. Martin, 17, was shot to death after being confronted by Sanford neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, 28, on February 26, 2012. Zimmerman, white, told Sanford Police that he shot the unarmed black teenager in self-defense. Family members are calling for Zimmerman's arrest. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • Trayvon Martin Photos

    Local historian and activist Francis Oliver adjusts a memorial she placed for the late Trayvon Martin at the neighborhood where he was shot on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Sanford, Fla. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • Trayvon Martin Photos

    Valera Pinkard, of Orlando, Fla., holds a sign near a memorial for the late Trayvon Martin at the neighborhood where he was shot on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Sanford, Fla. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • Trayvon Martin Photos

    Sybrina Fulton, mother, of the late Trayvon Martin, addresses the media with Martin's father Tracy Martin, left, on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Orlando, Fla. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • Trayvon Martin Photos

    Sybrina Fulton, mother, of the late Trayvon Martin, left, hugs Selma Mora Lamilla, after addressing the media on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Orlando, Fla. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • Tracy Martin, father, of the late Trayvon Martin, addresses the media on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Orlando, Fla. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • Trayvon Martin Photos

    Benjamin Crump, attorney for the family of the late Trayvon Martin, addresses the media on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Orlando, Fla. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • Trayvon Martin Photos

    Tracy Martin, father, of the late Trayvon Martin, addresses the media on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Orlando, Fla. Credit: David Manning for The Huffington Post

  • A Million Hoodies March Protests Death Of Trayvon Martin

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: Supporters of Trayvon Martin rally in Union Square during a 'Million Hoodie March' in Manhattan on March 21, 2012 in New York City. Thousands of protesters turned out to demonstrate against the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white neighborhood watch captain. The protesters marched through the streets after holding a large rally in Union Square. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • A Million Hoodies March Protests Death Of Trayvon Martin

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: Supporters of Trayvon Martin rally in Union Square during a 'Million Hoodie March' in Manhattan on March 21, 2012 in New York City. Thousands of protesters turned out to demonstrate against the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white neighborhood watch captain. The protesters marched through the streets after holding a large rally in Union Square. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • A Million Hoodies March Protests Death Of Trayvon Martin

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: Supporters of Trayvon Martin rally in Union Square during a 'Million Hoodie March' in Manhattan on March 21, 2012 in New York City. Thousands of protesters turned out to demonstrate against the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white neighborhood watch captain. The protesters marched through the streets after holding a large rally in Union Square. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • A Million Hoodies March Protests Death Of Trayvon Martin

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: Supporters of Trayvon Martin rally in Union Square during a 'Million Hoodie March' in Manhattan on March 21, 2012 in New York City. Thousands of protesters turned out to demonstrate against the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white neighborhood watch captain. The protesters marched through the streets after holding a large rally in Union Square. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • A Million Hoodies March Protests Death Of Trayvon Martin

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: Supporters of Trayvon Martin rally in Union Square during a 'Million Hoodie March' in Manhattan on March 21, 2012 in New York City. Thousands of protesters turned out to demonstrate against the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white neighborhood watch captain. The protesters marched through the streets after holding a large rally in Union Square. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • A Million Hoodies March Protests Death Of Trayvon Martin

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: Supporters of Trayvon Martin rally in Union Square during a 'Million Hoodie March' in Manhattan on March 21, 2012 in New York City. Thousands of protesters turned out to demonstrate against the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white neighborhood watch captain. The protesters marched through the streets after holding a large rally in Union Square. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • A Million Hoodies March Protests Death Of Trayvon Martin

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: Supporters of Trayvon Martin block traffic as they march on W. 14th Street during a 'Million Hoodie March' in Manhattan on March 21, 2012 in New York City. Thousands of protesters turned out to demonstrate against the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white neighborhood watch captain. The protesters took to the streets after holding a large rally in Union Square. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • A Million Hoodies March Protests Death Of Trayvon Martin

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: Tracy Martin (L), and Sybrina Fulton, parents of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, address supporters at a Million Hoodies March on March 21, 2012 in New York City. Family members joined hundreds of protesters calling for justice in the killing of Trayvon Martin, 17, who was was pursued and shot on February 26 in Sanford, Florida by 'neighborhood watch' member George Zimmerman, reportedly because the teenager's hoodie made him look suspicious. Under Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law, Zimmerman has not been charged with a crime in the shooting. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

  • A Million Hoodies March Protests Death Of Trayvon Martin

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: Sybrina Fulton, mother of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, speaks at the Million Hoodies March on March 21, 2012 in New York City. The family members joined hundreds of protesters calling for justice in the killing of Trayvon Martin, 17, who was was pursued and shot on February 26 in Sanford, Florida by 'neighborhood watch' member George Zimmerman, reportedly because the teenager's hoodie made him look suspicious. Under Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law, Zimmerman has not been charged with a crime in the shooting. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

  • Federal Government To Investigate Shooting Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin

    MIAMI, FL - MARCH 21: Protesters hold cans of ice tea and Skittles which is what the 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is reported to have been carrying when he was killed by neighborhood watch person, George Zimmerman on February 26 in Sanford, Florida, on March 21, 2012 in Miami, Florida. The Justice Department and the FBI opened an investigation into the death of the black teenager, and the local state attorney announced that he had asked a grand jury to investigate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Federal Government To Investigate Shooting Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin

    MIAMI, FL - MARCH 21: Protesters hold cans of ice tea and Skittles which is what the 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is reported to have been carrying when he was killed by neighborhood watch person, George Zimmerman on February 26 in Sanford, Florida, on March 21, 2012 in Miami, Florida. The Justice Department and the FBI opened an investigation into the death of the black teenager, and the local state attorney announced that he had asked a grand jury to investigate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: A reporter waits to broadcast at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Rev. Al Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: Protesters demonstrate at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Rev. Al Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: People attend a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Rev. Al Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: Protesters demonstrate at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Rev. Al Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: A protester holds a sign with pictures of George Zimmerman at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. Rev. Al Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: Protesters demonstrate at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Rev. Al Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: Protesters demonstrate at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Rev. Al Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: Sanford resident Rodney Stokes carries his son Rodney Stokes Jr. on his shoulder at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Rev. Al Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: Protesters demonstrate at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Rev. Al Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: Protesters demonstrate at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Rev. Al Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: Rev. Al Sharpton (R) looks on at a rally with Tracy Martin (R), father of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Shooting Death Of Unarmed Teen Trayvon Martin Sparks National Outrage

    SANFORD, FL - MARCH 22: Rev. Al Sharpton departs as media are reflected in a vehicle window at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced today he will temporarily step down following the killing of the black unarmed teenager by a white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain. Sharpton organized today's rally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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