A New York City high school teacher is suing the city’s Department of Education and several school administrators after, she claims, she was fired over her lessons on the wrongly imprisoned Central Park Five for fear that it would “rile up” black students, the New York Daily News reports.
Jeena Lee-Walker, an English teacher, said that administrators at the High School for Arts, Imagination and Inquiry on the Upper West Side of Manhattan started urging her in November 2013 to be more “balanced” when speaking about the famous case that shocked the city after five black and Latino teens were arrested and convicted for the brutal 1989 rape of a Central Park jogger. A number of years later, they were all exonerated.
According to Lee-Walker, she was told that the lessons could create “riots.”
“I was stunned,” she told the Daily News. “I was kind of like, the facts are the facts. This is what happened. These boys went to jail and lost 14, 18 years of their lives. How can you say that in a more balanced way?”
Still, the English teacher said she agreed to tone down the classes, but still argued “that students in general, and black students in particular, should be riled up.”
“I kind of wanted to hook them in, engage them, win them over,” she added. “I thought that this material was not only engaging but important.”
And, according to Lee-Walker, she got the response she hoped for from students, many of whom come from the same neighborhood as the wrongly convicted teens.
“It was awesome—they were so engaged,” she said. “They were really moved by the documentary, and rightly so. They really identified with the teenagers.”
Several more conversations followed with supervisors, however. She started to receive a series of bad performance reviews and was eventually dismissed.
The teacher claims that she was accused of being insubordinate and received poor reviews, not just because of her insistence on teaching the material but because she pushed back.
“I felt abandoned and mistreated,” Lee-Walker told the Daily News. “I think a lot of teachers in the system feel the same way.”
In her lawsuit, she claims that her First Amendment right to discuss the case was violated, and that her dismissal was against the city’s contract with the teachers union because she was not given the required 60-day notice.
“Ms. Lee-Walker is the type of teacher we want in a classroom,” her lawyer, Ambrose Wotorson, said. “We’re not looking to turn our students into automatons. We’re looking to turn out independent thinkers—and she got fired for that, and that’s just wrong.”
Read more at the New York Daily News.