By Christy Strawser
CBS Detroit Managing Editor
SOUTH LYON (CBS Detroit) — A Detroit-area middle school teacher returned to work Thursday after a three-day suspension over what she said was playing a song about being gay during class.
Susan Johnson told local media she allowed the song “Same Love” to be played during her eighth-grade performing arts class at Centennial Middle School in South Lyon at the request of a student. Another student reportedly complained to school administrators and the principal and assistant superintendent delivered the news to her.
Johnson says she was told her suspension would last three days and she wouldn’t be paid for two — but after the controversial hiatus, she returned to work without incident.
“I was so happy to see my kids, I really was happy to see my kids and just glad to be back in a routine,” Johnson said Thursday. “They did really well and I was just proud of them. They followed the substitute’s direction, which is not always easy for kids to do.”
She said there was buzz in the eighth grade class where the song was played, but she didn’t bring it up in class. “I wanted to get the kids on track again,” Johnson said. She added the union wants her to have a meeting on Monday, but she hopes it’s done and over.
In a statement emailed to The Associated Press Thursday, South Lyon Community Schools Assistant Superintendent Melissa Baker says Johnson failed to follow district protocol, which requires teachers to preview taped materials and submit a form about them to a building administrator for approval.
“It appears to me is they’re trying to say the punishment was because of this technical snafu because of a form that wasn’t filled out,” said Maggie Lourdes, an attorney and Johnson’s sister. “They didn’t like the content of the song. Our position is a teacher would never be suspended for two days without filling out a form if the underlying content wasn’t objectionable to the school.”
She added they have no intention of filing a lawsuit, but that would “change dramatically” if the school district retaliates against Johnson in any way.
The song in question, performed by rapper Macklemore, is supportive of gay rights, and has lyrics including “When I was at church they taught me something else; If you preach hate at the service those words aren’t anointed; That holy water that you soak in is then poisoned; When everyone else is more comfortable remaining voiceless; Rather than fighting for humans that have had their rights stolen; I might not be the same, but that’s not important; No freedom till we’re equal, damn right I support it.”
The refrain says over and over: “Can’t change, even if I tried.”
The teacher has tapped the ACLU and local gay rights support group Affirmations for help.
“We’ve been in contact with Susan and her sister … We are currently just in talks with Susan and trying to figure out what the situation is all about,” Cassandra Varner, director of communications at Affirmations.
Affirmations started a fund to cover Johnson’s three days of lost wages, donate at www.goaffirmations.org.