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Michigan middle school teacher suspended for promoting diversity

Thursday, November 29, 2012

SOUTH LYON, Mich. — A Detroit-area middle school teacher has been suspended after playing a song in class that included lyrics about harassment faced by gay youth.

The song, “Same Love,” was played during Susan Johnson’s eighth-grade performing arts class at South Lyon Centennial Middle School, at the request of a student.

“This is one of the things in my school that we’re trying to practice and we’re trying to instill in our students is tolerance to diversity,” Johnson explained.

School officials confirmed that another student in class didn’t agree with the lyrics, and went to the office and complained. Before the school day ended, Johnson claims the principal and assistant superintendent told her she was suspended.

“I don’t think that it was really even thought through,” she said. “I was paralyzed. I really didn’t understand why I was being suspended.”

During a closed door meeting with school administrators, Johnson found out she would be suspended a total of three days, two of which would be unpaid.

“I’m very disappointed in the bias, the bigotry that I feel that they’re really hiding behind,” said Johnson.

“I really love my kids and I never want to hurt them, but I also know that there’s a lot of bullying and there’s a lot of gay bashing and racial issues going on in our country and I want the kids to feel comfortable in my class no matter who they are.”

Johnson confirmed Thursday that the ACLU and the LGBT advocacy group Equality Michigan have agreed to assist her in her efforts.

“While we are still investigating this incident, it appears that the South Lyon Community School District is taking a stance against diversity and love,” said Emily Dievendorf, Director of Policy for Equality Michigan.

“Suspending a teacher for playing a song with lyrics like ‘love is kind’ and ‘if I was gay, I would think hip-hop hates me’ says more about the school district’s intolerance towards same-sex love than the teacher’s judgment of her student’s music tastes,” said Dievendorf.

“I cannot help but wonder if they would have suspended her for playing a song which speaks positively of opposite-sex love or provides observations on the oppression faced by certain religions,” she added.

The school district responded in a statement that while it generally does not discuss employee issues, “misinformation … must be addressed.”

“The district has an established practice, included in the staff handbook, that requires the instructor to first preview any taped material to be used in the classroom, including YouTube clips, then submit a completed form about the proposed clip to a building administrator for approval,” read the statement. “To ensure that the proposed material supports the curriculum for the class, the form requires the instructor to provide a brief description of the clip and how it relates to the lesson plan.”

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14 more reader comments:

  1. Disappointing for the home state.

    Posted on Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 7:46pm
  2. I’m from this school district, and here’s the letter the superindendent sent out in response:
    He said it was a matter of “the teacher not getting the content accepted beforehand”. Take that as you will

    Posted on Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 7:48pm
  3. …I’d also like to add that most people here are outraged at this. I don’t want people thinking Michigan is just full of bigots, hah ;A;

    Posted on Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 7:48pm
  4. That is ridiculous!!!

    Posted on Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 7:57pm
  5. Ouch…it made it on here :x

    Posted on Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 7:57pm
  6. the school administrators are in violation of Michigan education law
    “Bullying” or “harassment” is any gesture or written, verbal, graphic, or physical act (including electronically transmitted acts – i.e., cyberbullying, through the use of internet, cell phone, personal digital assistant (pda), computer, or wireless handheld device, currently in use or later developed and used by students) that is reasonably perceived as being dehumanizing, intimidating, hostile, humiliating, threatening, or otherwise likely to evoke fear of physical harm or emotional distress and may be motivated either by bias or prejudice based upon any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression; or a mental, physical, or sensory disability or impairment; or by any other distinguishing characteristic, or is based upon association with another person who has or is perceived to have any distinguishing characteristic. Bullying and harassment also include forms of retaliation against individuals who report or cooperate in an investigation under this policy. Such behaviors are considered to be bullying or harassment whether they take place on or off school property, at any school-sponsored function, or in a school vehicle or at any time or place where a child’s imminent safety or over-all well being may be at issue.

    Posted on Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 8:06pm
  7. And now diversity all went away.

    Posted on Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 8:07pm
  8. I wonder how many time material has been passed out in the class room with out getting the approval. This seems to be a scapegoat for the school and that is all. I hope the school administration is brought down

    Posted on Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 8:17pm
  9. really?? wanting to bring people closer together and learning to not hate people for reasons in which a person can’t control is grounds for suspension?? are people truly this narrow-minded??

    Posted on Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 8:23pm
  10. I’m just going to say again that it is SOLELY the superintendent and that kid who reported the song. People are OUTRAGED at this.
    And yes, they play things unapproved all the time. And we’ve been trying to get that superintendent out for years; nobody likes him.

    Posted on Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 8:26pm
  11. It’s not right. The bullying of teachers has started openly

    Posted on Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 8:32pm
  12. so much for teaching your children about tolerance and diversity. nothings worse than a bigot in the school system.

    Posted on Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 8:45pm
  13. i too am from “michigan”…..and am VERY unhappy about this….i heard, that even IF she’d asked before hand, they would have said NO….i think, she should SUE!

    Posted on Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 11:10pm
  14. Another example of “NOT THAT KIND OF DIVERSITY”. Will it never end???

    Posted on Friday, November 30, 2012 at 5:48am