A New York educator has filed a lawsuit claiming she was terminated for teaching her students about the infamous “Central Park Five” case.
According to The New York Daily News, Jeena Lee-Walker, an English teacher at the High School for Arts, Imagination and Inquiry in the Upper West Side, created a curriculum that included an exploration of the wrongful conviction of five teenagers in the 1989 rape case of a New York jogger. In Lee-Walker’s federal suit, the teacher claims administrators told her the lessons were unbalanced and would create “small riots” among Black students.
Lee-Walker instead believes the lessons left students well-informed about the amount of time Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise and Raymond Santana spent in prison for a crime they didn’t commit. In 2002, the charges were dropped and the men were awarded a $41 million settlement from the city.
“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?”
Although Lee-Walker, 37, agreed to soften her approach, she 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 said. “I thought that this material was not only engaging but important.”
The 37-year-old was employed by the school for two years and was fired in May without a 60-day notice. Documents show that Lee-Walker was let go after several poor performance reviews, with insubordination being the final reason for termination.
Lawyers for Lee-Walker believe the teacher’s First Amendment rights were violated, as well as her contract with the teacher’s union. The city law department hasn’t released a statement. Lee-Walker has yet to specify a specific amount of damages in the suit.