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Michigan teacher claims she was fired for organizing Trayvon Martin fundraiser

Local Detroit

A middle school teacher says she lost her job at a Pontiac, Mich. charter school because she helped students organize a fundraiser for the family of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

The firing of Brooke Harris, an English and journalism teacher at Pontiac Academy for Excellence Middle School garnered national attention.

On Monday, the Mississippi-based advocacy group Southern Poverty Law Center demanded her reinstatement. The organization has also started a petition that has more than 8,000 signatures so far.

According the the Law Center's Teaching Tolerance blog:

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.

The fundraiser was proposed for March 28. Students were to don hoodies, which was what Martin was wearing when he was killed. Once a month, the school allows students to  pay $1 to wear street clothes instead of their uniform. According to local news reports, the students participating would each donate their $1 fee to the Martin family.

Harris said while the school's principal signed off on the fundraiser, Superintendent Jacqueline Cassell said no because of the manner in which they would be wearing the hoods - over their heads. Harris asked Cassell to meet with the students so they could present their case, but Harris 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 told the Detroit Free Press.

Harris then returned to school while suspended to drop off prizes for a literacy fair. Harris met with Cassell again and was given a two-week suspension.

"I asked her if she could please tell me what I did wrong to come to the first meeting," Harris said in a report by The Detroit News. "After I asked that question twice, she never gave me an answer — then she fired me."

Cassell said she is a "child of the civil rights movement" and has supported the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center in the past but said "this is not the time in the school year" for efforts that distract from academics, she told The Detroit News.

Cassell claims the protest was not the reason Harris was fired. Harris says she wants her job back, but is unsure if that is possible.

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