New York City asked a federal judge to throw out a teacher’s lawsuit, which claimed that she was fired over her lesson plan about the five Black teens wrongfully convicted of a violent gang rape in Central Park, NBC News reports.
Convicted in 1989, the so-called Central Park Five were exonerated in 2002 of raping a White female investment banker. DNA evidence backed up the confession of the actual rapist. The city ultimately settled a federal lawsuit with the five men for $40 million, but that didn’t end the divisive turmoil. Many New Yorkers of color point to that case as evidence of police misconduct and ongoing systemic injustice.
Jeena Lee-Walker, the teacher at the center of the controversy, claimed that she received negative performance reviews because her lessons on the Central Park Five appeared biased in favor of the wrongfully convicted Black teens.
In her lawsuit, Lee-Walker said her students—mostly Black and Latino—connected with the case.
“I think because [the students’] instinctual reaction was, like, ‘Oh my God, this is such an injustice, cops are bad’ — just very emotional responses— maybe that was part of what the administrators felt fearful about or unbalanced,” she told NBC.
The city said Lee-Walker’s assistant principal legitimately feared that her lessons would anger students of color. School officials did not prohibit the former English teacher from discussing the case in class, but they said she had to “be fair and evenhanded.”
In its petition to dismiss the case, the city said Lee-Walker would have to prove in court that her presentation on the Central Park Five was protected First Amendment speech and that her dismissal was retaliation for how she presented the case, NBC reported.
The teacher’s attorneys argued in court documents that her lecture is political speech, protected under the First Amendment.
The lawsuit states, via NBC:
“So long as the teacher — consistent with the overall goals of the curriculum — instructs her students without manufacturing history or misleading them, there is no legitimate governmental interest in restraining a teacher’s classroom instruction over fears that students will ‘riot’ or otherwise lose control while learning about an historical event.”
However, the city’s motion to dismiss argues that Lee-Walker’s lesson was not protected by the First Amendment because she was performing her duties as a teacher in the public school system.
SOURCE: NBC News | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty, Twitter