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February 24, 2012

Teacher sues Board of Ed over suspension

A social science teacher at an elementary school just blocks from the University is filing a suit against the Chicago Board of Education, claiming that the school was wrong when it suspended him for using a racial slur during a class discussion about offensive language.

Lincoln Brown, a 48-year-old teacher at Murray Language Academy on East 54th Street near South Kenwood Avenue, was suspended for five days without pay last October after an incident in which he used the n-word.

On October 4, Brown intercepted a note passed by one of his male students to a female student with rap lyrics that included the slur, the Chicago Tribune reported. He says, however, that he seized the moment as an opportunity to teach his class a lesson about derogatory language.

Brown is now suing the Board of Education for violating his civil rights, claiming that he was merely attempting “to teach his class a lesson in vocabulary, civility, and race relations,” Brown said in a phone interview.

“I used the word, but I didn’t address it to the students. I was having an important discussion on the problems of racism,” he said.

Brown also claims that the school’s principal, Gregory Mason, was present in the classroom during the lesson and did not protest to the structure of the lesson, according to the Tribune.

Two weeks later, Brown was charged with violating CPS policy, which prohibits using the slur in books, movies, or classroom discussions. Mason could not be reached for comment.

“If we can’t discuss these issues, we’ll never be able to resolve them,” Brown said, according to legal documents. His appeal to the Board was denied in December.

First-year Zori Paul, a member of the Organization of Black Students (OBS) and Black Campus Ministry, felt that Brown should have found “a better way to present it in front of elementary students.”

Still, “I think we should know the history of the word because it’s a way to learn from past mistakes,” she said, suggesting that Brown should have discussed a lesson plan about the word with other teachers or school administrators beforehand.

Being a teacher for more than 25 years in schools where the majority of students are African-American, Brown said he carefully followed the advice of the Southern Poverty Law Center to formulate his discussions with students.

Jason Lopez, associate director of the University Laboratory Schools’ educational program, said that if a similar incident happened at the Lab Schools, it would result in a sit-down with administrators before any disciplinary action.

“However, teachers should have good judgment of a teachable moment: whether it is age appropriate, developmental appropriate, and social appropriate,” Lopez said.

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