(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) — A Charlotte, North Carolina, teacher is suing the charter school he used to work at after he claims he was fired after parents allegedly complained about him teaching a fictional book involving a racially profiled Black teen.
Markayle Gray, a former English teacher at Charlotte Secondary School, claims in a civil lawsuit that was filed on Wednesday that he was terminated from his position as a 7th and 8th-grade teacher on Feb. 2 following backlash from parents over his teaching of the 2017 young adult novel “Dear Martin.”
The 2017 New York Times bestselling novel by Nic Stone follows the story of a Black teenager who was thrown to the ground and handcuffed during an encounter with police. The Ivy League-bound teen writes 10 imaginary letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. imagining what the civil rights leader would have done in his position.
Gray contends that he got permission from the school to teach the book, however in January white parents complained about that book claiming it “was divisive and injected what they regarded as unwelcome political views on systemic racial inequality into their children’s classroom,” according to the lawsuit.
“Mr. Gray was never given a written explanation of why he was being terminated and never given a detailed explanation,” Artur Davis, Gray’s attorney, told ABC News. “But there was a reference to complaints about this book being taught, and that was the end of it.”
North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction did not immediately respond to ABC News’ requests for comment.
ABC News reached out to the school and principal Keisha Rock, who referred all questions to attorneys representing the school.
“Since this is a personnel matter, we are limited in what we can say about the reasons for Mr. Gray’s termination,” attorney Katie Weaver Hartzog told ABC News in a statement. “However, I can say that the termination of Mr. Gray’s employment was based on legitimate, nondiscriminatory, non-retaliatory reasons. The school denies any and all allegations of wrongdoing and intends to vigorously defend the suit.”
“Dear Martin” has been banned in other school districts, including one in Augusta, Georgia, over similar complaints.
Davis claimed that ahead of Black History Month, Gray had a “very intentional conversation” with Rock about what would be an “appropriate curriculum” and that she “specifically said to Mr. Gray that [“Dear Martin”] would be a good book to teach.”
Davis said that Gray assigned the book for students to read in January and intended to include it in his lessons during Black History Month in February.
Gray had been on personal leave for a week before his firing and had not been made aware of any concerns about his performance or of complaints before he was fired, according to Davis.
Davis said that Gray was informed of his firing during a “short meeting” with Rock, where she referenced alleged complaints from parents.
The lawsuit claims the school did not follow its protocols for termination, including terminating an employee mid-year “without a history of corrective action and without any evidence of school policies being violated by the teacher.”
Gray is seeking back pay, front pay, lost benefits and other relief, according to the lawsuit.
Since his termination, Davis said that Gray has had to switch professions and is now working in real estate because his firing in the middle of the school year “has reputationally been very damaging.”
“He now has this stigma that frankly, until there’s a lawsuit, most people didn’t know what happened to him,” Davis said.
Davis said that Gray began his teaching contract at Charlotte Secondary School in the fall and as a Black man, he was drawn to the diversity of the school and its mission to “empower” young people.
“He went into this profession because he was motivated by the idea of inspiring Black teenagers,” Davis said.
“He felt a sense of mission, a sense of calling around working with these young people,” he added.
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