A new lawsuit in New York claims a teacher was fired after crafting a lesson plan on the Central Park Five intended to “rile up” black students.
In 1989, jogger Trisha Meili was savagely raped while jogging in Central Park, New York, and spent nearly two weeks in a coma. Five black and Hispanic men, nicknamed the Central Park Five, were tried and convicted for the attack and spent years in prison. But in 2002, another man confessed to the attack and all of the men had their convictions vacated.
The case fueled allegations of racism in policing, with supporters of the Central Park Five saying they were victims of a hostile police force and biased media coverage. In 2014, a lawsuit stemming from the case was settled for $41 million.
High school English teacher Jeena-Lee Walker says she wanted to use the Central Park Five as major part of her curriculum, claiming that it captivated her students in a way other subjects would not.
But according to her new lawsuit, whose papers were obtained by The New York Daily News, administrators at the High School for Arts, Imagination and Inquiry told her the lessons had to be toned down, because the “unbalanced” lessons would otherwise cause little “riots” at the school.
Walker didn’t deny that her lessons were intended to rile up black students, but strongly defended them anyway, arguing “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 told the Daily News. “I thought that this material was not only engaging but important.”
Eventually she acquiesced and agreed to tone down the lessons, but that wasn’t the end of it. According to Walker, school authorities sabotaged her career with a series of negative performance reviews over the next 18 months, until she was finally fired last spring.
Walker says her firing violated her First Amendment free speech rights in the classroom.
New York City’s government hasn’t commented on the case yet.
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