One year ago, Brooke Harris made headlines when she was fired from her teaching job in Flint for helping students create a fundraiser for the family of Trayvon Martin.
Now, Harris is in trouble with another employer.
Earlier this month, she was fired from her teaching position at Detroit’s Mumford High School. That’s one of the schools under the Education Achievement Authority (EAA). It’s a new state-run district that oversees the lowest-performing schools in Detroit.
Harris was dismissed after some of her students staged a walkout protesting a new EAA policy, year-round schooling.
However, Harris was over 500 miles away at a conference in New York City at the time.
Harris has been outspoken about EAA policies in the past. In fact, one month prior, she openly objected to another EAA policy: larger class sizes. She began a student organization called Social Justice League, where she gave students a safe place to discuss their concerns with the new school rules. However, neither Harris nor any of the Social Justice League students were involved in the walkout.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is now speaking out on Harris’s behalf. It says the termination is an infringement of her First Amendment rights.
“You have a teacher who goes and speaks out against the EAA,” explained Brooke Tucker of the ACLU, “then a month later, she’s away attending an event in New York City and something happens at the school. She is immediately blamed for it, when she has no knowledge of it. The school is now using this as a basis to terminate her.”
The EAA did not respond to a request for comment. However, Terry Abbott, a representative for the EAA, told the Huffington Post that the walkout disrupted “educational activities and the safety and security of students and staff.”
In a 6-page letter to the EAA, the ACLU says it has:
…serious concerns that Ms. Harris has been, and continues to be, unconstitutionally retaliated against for speaking out on a matter of public concern, namely conditions at schools managed by the Education Achievement Authority (EAA).
The letter goes on to say that Mumford’s principal made her decision to terminate Harris using heresay information, and failed to contact Harris to ask if she had any involvement in the walkout. The ACLU is demanding the EAA uphold Harris’s contract with the school for the remainder of the current school year, as well as pay for her time away.
“You know, whether you like or dislike the EAA,” explained Tucker, “I think we can all agree that a teacher should not be punished for raising serious concerns for things she’s seeing at her school. It’s just like a firefighter wouldn’t be fired for saying there’s faulty equipment.”
Harris is still awaiting the results from a pre-termination hearing. The ACLU says it would prefer to settle the matter out of court. But it says it’s prepared to file a lawsuit if necessary.
-Alana Holland, Michigan Radio Newsroom