Michigan teacher fired for Trayvon Martin hoodie fundraiser

Brooke Harris, an eighth grade English teacher, was fired after encouraging students raise money in support of Trayvon Martin's family. A petition has been started to reinstate Brooke Harris.

REUTERS/Philip Sears
Florida Rep. Alan Williams, (D) of Tallahssee, wears a hoodie as he speaks during a rally organized by the National Christian League of Councils for slain teen Trayvon Martin in Tallahassee, Florida April 4, 2012. Middle school students in Michigan were told not to wear hoodies to school as a fundraiser.

 A teacher in southeastern Michigan has been fired for helping students organize a fundraiser for the family of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teenager shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer, a national civil rights group said.

Brooke Harris was dismissed in March from Pontiac Academy for Excellence Middle School "with little explanation" after she encouraged students to plan a wear-a-hoodie-to-school day in memory of Martin, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Montgomery, Ala., said Monday. Martin was wearing a hoodie Feb. 26 when he was killed.

The hoodie has become a popular – and sometimes controversial – symbol of those campaigning for justice in the Trayvon Martin case. On March 28, Rep.  Bobby Rush (D) of Illinois was removed from the House of Representatives in Washinton for wearing a hoodie. Rush was was in violation of clause 5 of House Rule 17 against wearing hats on the House floor. On March 30, a Delaware high school lifted its dress code for a day so that students could wear hoodies to school.

Harris should be reinstated, the Southern Poverty Law Center said.

IN PICTURES: Trayvon Martin protests

Superintendent Jacqueline Cassell told The Associated Press that she couldn't discuss personnel matters, but that she didn't oppose the effort, more its timing.

"I'm a child of the civil rights movement," Cassell said. But "this is not the time in the school year" to distract students from academics.

"In every situation, there are work rules," she said. "When rules are violated, there are consequences."

According to the rights group, Harris, a literature teacher, was asked by her eighth-grade journalism students about the death of Martin, 17, who was unarmed when he was shot in Sanford, Fla. No charges have been filed.

Harris gave the students an editorial-writing assignment on the shooting. But the students wanted to help Martin's family and asked the school's administrators if they could pay $1 each to wear hoodies instead of school uniform for a day, the group said. It said the school regularly has fundraisers in which students can "dress down."

Cassell rejected the request and she suspended Harris for encouraging the students to make their request in person, the group said.

Harris then was fired for showing up at the school during her suspension, the group said. It said Harris had gone to the school to drop off prizes for a literacy fair she helped organize for students.

"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," Harris told the Detroit Free Press. "When I tried to defend myself, it was construed as insubordination."

Attempts by the AP to reach Harris late Monday were not successful.

"Schools should encourage teachers to challenge their students to think critically about the world around them, rather than condemn them," Jerri Katzerman, the Southern Poverty Law Center's deputy legal director. "What sort of message does it send to young children when their teacher is fired for helping them understand the world around them?"

The SPLC has a petition at, demanding Harris' reinstatement, reports the Detroit Free Press.

IN PICTURES: Trayvon Martin protests

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.