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Michigan middle school teacher suspended for promoting diversity

Thursday, November 29, 2012
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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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