A high school English teacher says that she was fired for teaching lessons about the Central Park Five because the school was worried that the material would cause “riots” in the black student population.
Jeena Lee-Walker told the New York Daily News she was warned to take a more “balanced” approach to teaching the story of the Central Park Five. She claims officials from the High School for Arts, Imagination and Inquiry suggested her lessons on the infamous case would incite “riots,” particularly among her black students.
The Central Park Five refers to the five black and latino men who were wrongfully convicted of rape in 1989. The men served between 6-13 years in prison before the real rapist came forward in 2002.
They were all exonerated and the eventually awarded millions by New York City.
“I was stunned,” Walker 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?”
She said that she agreed to tone down her approach to the material but felt “that students in general, and black students in particular, should be riled up.”
In fact, the lessons on the Central Park Five were engaging for her students, and Lee-Walker said that it particular touched many of them who group up in the same neighborhood as the Five.
“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.”
But after that, Lee-Walker began to receive a series of bad performance reviews over a period of 18 months that accused her of insubordination, not just because she taught the material but because she fought back against the administration’s desire to change her teaching.
Ultimately, she says, the bad reviews led to her termination.