EducationNews & Opinion

Former Teacher Sues Charlotte Secondary School for ‘Critical Race Theory’ Firing

The front exterior and entrance of Charlotte Secondary School.
A former teacher has filed a wrongful termination suit against Charlotte Secondary School. (Photo by Ran Pitkin)

Charlotte teacher Markayle Gray has filed a lawsuit against a charter school in southeast Charlotte after he says he was wrongfully terminated for assigning students a critically acclaimed novel that white parents called “racially divisive.”

In a press release issued on June 14, Gray’s attorneys accuse Charlotte Secondary School, a nonprofit charter school, of causing the “latest casualty of the book-banning hysteria sweeping American education.”

Gray, a seventh- and eighth-grade English teacher at Charlotte Secondary, had his nearly four-month stint at the school cut short on Feb. 2 after white parents complained to the administration about his use of the novel Dear Martin, which he assigned in observance of Black History Month.

The novel follows an Ivy League-bound Black teenager’s struggle with isolation after falling victim to racial profiling by law enforcement in a series of letters written to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Charlotte Secondary’s English teachers are required to obtain permission from their department heads or the school principal regarding their course offerings and reading lists for the school year. 

Gray claims in the lawsuit that principal Keisha Rock not only granted him permission to use Dear Martin in his lesson plan for his seventh-grade honors track class, she recommended the novel to him as a “challenging but age-appropriate work that promoted a discussion of core American values like justice and equality.”

However, after white parents began to complain to administrators in January about the “divisive” contents of the novel and how it “injected … unwelcome political views on systemic racial inequality into their children’s classroom,” Gray was abruptly fired from his position.

The lawsuit alleges that Rock essentially admitted to Gray that his termination was because of a racially inspired backlash over his teaching of the novel. 

Following his dismissal, Rock acknowledged her decision as a way to avoid pressure from North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) after a complaint had been circulated to DPI that a teacher at Charlotte Secondary was teaching so-called Critical Race Theory.

“It was him [Gray] or me,” Rock said, according to the lawsuit.

Despite Charlotte Secondary’s student population being approximately 80-85% Black, Hispanic, or biracial — and a core principle claiming that “Diversity is not merely desirable, it is necessary for the accomplishment of our mission” — Gray believes the administration caters largely to its smaller white community.

“Principal Rock and the Charlotte Secondary Board of Directors seem to care more about bowing to political pressure than they do about following their own procedures and policies,” said Gray’s lead attorney Artur Davis in the press release. “All Markayle Gray did was teach a novel his supervisors had already approved and they fired him for it.”

The lawsuit found that similar complaints filed by Black parents against white teachers were largely ignored. Gray’s white colleagues were free to discuss their “divisive” political views on race, gender and sexual orientation without facing corrective action or discipline from Charlotte Secondary administrators, the lawsuit claims.

Charlotte Secondary defied its own disciplinary protocol as stated in the employee handbook by terminating Gray’s contract mid-year without a history of corrective action or any evidence of school policies being violated by the teacher, the suit claims. 

The lawsuit, which can be viewed in full here, further details the racial discrimination faced by Black students and teachers in Charlotte Secondary and the continued ignorance of its administration, laying out a larger pattern in which Black students and faculty are often treated more harshly than their white counterparts.

North Carolina’s House of Representatives passed a bill in March that limits racial teachings in classrooms. The bill, previously vetoed by Governor Roy Cooper, would restrict certain racial topics lawmakers equate with Critical Race Theory. Though the bill passed its first reading in the N.C. Senate, it has been in committee since March. 

Gray’s lawsuit aims to hold Charlotte Secondary and its board of directors accountable for their racially discriminatory conduct and to recover economic damages brought onto Gray, the June press release states. 

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