Jeena Lee-Walker, a former English teacher at the Upper West Side’s High School for Arts, Imagination and Inquiry, claims she was fired for teaching students about the Central Park Five case, by an administration that feared the lessons would incite “riots” and “rile up” black students.
Lee-Walker alleges in a lawsuit that in 2013, administrators asked her to be more “balanced” in her history lesson, then gave her several bad performance reviews for pushing back on the instruction and ultimately fired her, the New York Daily News reports. She had been teaching in city public schools for six years and at the high school for two before her termination.
For those who could have used Lee-Walker’s course as a refresher, a brief synopsis: in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, New York City was captivated by the assault and rape of Trisha Meili, who was jogging in Central Park when she was attacked. Five black and Latino teenagers—Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Kharey Wise—were arrested and convicted based on statements they claimed police coerced them to give. After the Central Park Five spent many years in jail, their convictions were vacated in 2002 when another man confessed to the crime and DNA evidence was found to match his.
Incidentally, Donald Trump took out a full-page ad in the New York papers in ‘89 that was inspired by the Central Park jogger case. Its headline: “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!” When the city announced in 2014 that it would settle a lawsuit brought by the Central Park Five for $40 million, he wrote a Daily News op-ed calling it a “disgrace” and opining that “these young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels.”
“I kind of wanted to hook them in, engage them, win them over,” Lee-Walker told the Daily News, adding that “students in general, and black students in particular, should be riled up.” Her suit does not specify damages.