A Black English teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina, has filed a lawsuit against his former charter school, accusing the institution of firing him due to complaints from white parents about his lesson on Dear Martin.
The 2017 book follows 17-year-old Justyce McAllister, an Ivy League-bound high school senior whose life is turned upside down after an incident of police brutality.
According to NC Newsline, the teacher — Markayle Gray — planned to teach Dear Martin to his 7th-grade honors class for Black History Month. According to the suit, school administrators approved the lesson and it was recommended by Principal Keisha Rock, who is also Black. As are a significant amount of students at Charlotte Secondary School — more than 80% of the school’s student body is Black, Hispanic or biracial. The school had 23 white students during the 2022-2023 school year. Gray was fired by the school in February.
Gray claims in the lawsuit that his dismissal was “racially discriminatory,” and that Rock “all but admitted” that their decision to let him go was due to his Dear Martin lesson.
The suit states that white parents started to complain to school leadership about the lesson in January, saying the novel is “divisive and injected what they regarded as unwelcome political views on systemic racial inequality into their children’s classroom.” But Gray felt the lesson was important; he claims in the suit that white teachers at the school are not well-versed in teaching lessons that cover politically charged topics like race, gender and sexual orientation.
“Charlotte Secondary has filed complaints about multiple white teachers from black parents without taking any disciplinary or corrective steps, much less termination,” the lawsuit reads. “The school’s approach to dealing with such complaints from Black families has consistently been to resign the offended student to another teacher, even when one complaint involved a white arts teacher who made a racially insensitive comment about color complexion of a Black student.”
The lawsuit alleges that, contrary to school policy, Gray was not given a performance improvement plan. It also claims that school leadership neglected their conflict resolution process to de-escalate the situation.
Gray’s lead attorney, Artur Davis, attributes Gray’s firing to a hostile political climate that pushed the Republican-driven North Carolina General Assembly to champion legislation that restricts how teachers approach discussing race in the classroom. According to the North Carolina General Assembly, House Bill 187 stops teachings that the government is “inherently racist” or was created to oppress people of another race or sex.
“Principal Rock and the Charlotte Secondary Board of Directors seem to care more about bowing to political pressure than they do about following their own procedures and policies,” Davis said, according to NC Newsline. “All Markayle Gray did was teach a novel his supervisors had already approved and they fired him for it.”
Dear Martin has already been banned from other North Carolina schools. In January, Haywood County Schools banned the novel after a parent complained about its explicit language and sexual innuendos.
Rodney Pierce, a social studies teacher in Nash County, has spoken out against House Bill 187 and the government for its stance on how teachers teach certain topics in the classroom. He was shocked to learn about Gray’s firing. According to NC Newsline, he asked, “You mean to tell me, a Black man who graduated from an HBCU [historically Black college and university] can’t teach a majority Black student population about issues of racial injustice, from a book written by a Black woman who graduated from an HBCU, during the month designated by our country to recognize and learn about the history of Black Americans, because white families complained?”
Gray’s lawsuit comes amid widespread book bans, as parents try to ban books they find inappropriate from school libraries and classrooms. Last week, Moms for Liberty, a nonprofit organization that aims to stop curriculums that explore LGBTQIA+ rights, race, critical race theory and discrimination, filed close to 200 challenges to remove 20 books they believe are inappropriate for Wake County school libraries, Raleigh News & Observer reported.