Reporting Charlie Langton
PONTIAC (Talk Radio 1270) She says she’s still confused, but the teacher who was fired after trying to create a fundraiser for Trayvon Martin’s family isn’t just moving on.
Brooke Harris is fighting back.
Harris and supporter Rev. Charles Williams are planning a rally outside the school next Monday if the superintendent doesn’t hire her back by Friday. About 200 people attended a similar rally Tuesday.
“The quality of making sure young people are educated about advocacy…Where they learn how to act, what these students were doing in her classroom was quality, but if Pontiac Academy doesn’t agree with these things…Then I can’t see why a parent would want to have their student there,” said Harris’ supporter Rev. Charles Williams said.
Parents were reportedly told Harris, an eighth grade teacher, didn’t go through proper channels for her planned fundraiser. Harris said that’s absolutely not true. The superintendent refused to comment.
“I miss my kids, and based on emails I’m getting, they miss me too,” Harris said. Earlier, she said, “I do not know what I did wrong… I was berated and bullied (in the meeting where she was fired.)”
It started when Harris said her students were fascinated by the Trayvon Martin case where the unarmed black teenager was shot to death on a Florida street by a resident who thought he looked suspicious. Martin was talking on the phone to his girlfriend and walking back from a nearby convenience store.
After her English students wrote essays about the incident, Harris said they wanted to do more. She said the students came up with the idea to have classmates pay $1 to wear a hoodie, with the money going to Martin’s family.
“He was interested in this topic, being a good English teacher, I jumped on it,” Harris said. “We watched videos, I told them to form their own opinions…It was entirely student driven,” Harris said. “All I wanted to do was support my students.”
She said she got permission from the school principal and her formal request was forwarded to the superintendent — and that’s where it went awry.
The two-time teacher of the year said the superintendent denied the fundraiser and called her in for a meeting the next morning where she was told she was a bad teacher who thought she was too much in charge. She was fired on the spot.
Harris said the reason for her firing is still unclear, but she was told it was because she cried during the meeting and crying is “unprofessional.” Harris, who has worked there three years, added the superintendent couldn’t remember her name during the meeting.
“Let’s assume that even though you fill out all the paperwork, suppose the superintendent said ‘it’s more political, we don’t want to do it,’ you would have accepted that, wouldn’t you?” Langton asked.
“Yes,” Harris said, adding that the day the protest was denied, she told students they could let it go or come up with something else to do.
“I’m confused, I don’t really know why I was fired,” Harris said. “I know the circumstances around it. I know it had to have something to do with the fundraiser my students (wanted.)”
Williams said, “This whole situation is clearly preposterous…Three years of service, two of those years she’s teacher of the year. There is definitely some political motive here.”
As a charter school employee, Harris isn’t part of a teacher’s union and said she has no recourse to get her job back.
“I emailed the school board, but there’s no formal appeals process,” she said.
Caller Joe from Detroit weighed in, saying, “Now we know why they don’t want unions in schools…It would be the superintendent taken to task… A union in place, you can’t just arbitrarily, unilaterally, for no reason fire someone.”
Asked if the lack of a union means she makes more money, Harris laughed.
“Charter school teachers are notoriously underpaid,” Harris said, adding that she works at a charter because “If you want a teaching job in Michigan, the only option is charter schools.”
She praised the school in troubled Pontiac, though, saying kids can tell people care about them and many of them feel safe enough to walk to class.
“She loved the school, she loved the students…At the end of the day, it’s unfortunate to the school and to those who attend that school. We don’t want to have to slam Pontiac Academy, but at the end of the day if they don’t do what’s right, they need to be slammed,” Williams said.
Langton noted that Harris, as an at-will employee and without the powerful Michigan Education Association union behind her, is “in a tricky situation.”
“I know there are people in high places who do want her there,” Williams said.