Jeena Lee-Walker, an English teacher at the NYC High School for Arts, Imagination, and Inquiry, was fired for including lessons about the Central Park Five in her curriculum. The administration expressed concerns that due to her approach in discussing the case, which wrongfully imprisoned five black and Latino teenagers convicted of raping and killing a white woman, the lesson might “rile up” students and incite a “riot.”
Lee-Walker recalled her students’ perceptions after screening The Central Park Five, saying, “It was awesome — they were so engaged…They were really moved by the documentary and rightly so. They really identified with the teenagers.”
However, after a string of bad performance reviews and accusations of insubordination, Lee-Walker was fired.
Lee-Walker, then filed a lawsuit with the Manhattan Federal Court against the Department of Education and select school administrators stating, “I felt abandoned and mistreated…I think a lot of teachers in the system feel the same way.”
The Central Park Five resonates on a deep level for millennials of color because they represent the systemic inequalities that continue to plague us. Studying this topic in a classroom setting seems like the appropriate venue for raising the next generation of socially aware, and engaged, citizens. Even though Lee-Walker has faced such backlash from her supervisors, there’s a community of supporters who appreciate her efforts. Her lawyer Ambrose Wotorson says, “Ms. Lee-Walker is the type of teacher we want in a classroom.”