Lincoln Brown, a middle school teacher in Chicago, was dismissed in the fall of 2011 for a discussion he lead in class about the n-word. In his sixth grade grammar class, he
noticed some of his students arguing over a note, which the students were passing around, containing offensive rap lyrics. Brown collected the note and read a part of it aloud to demonstrate the bullying nature of the words. He then explained to the students that, although he listened to rap music, he did not listen to the type of rap that contained offensive and inappropriate language, including racial stereotypes and the degradation of women.
When students asked what he meant, Brown decided to defuse the situation by explaining the controversial use of the “N” word in rap music and society at large. Brown explained that the word “nigger” was distasteful and historically offensive to African Americans, and that the use of that word by some African Americans is viewed with disgust by others. The discussion eventually touched on the racial profiling of Chicago cab drivers. After class, Brown approached the two students involved in the initial dispute, and Brown resolved any lingering issues between the two students. Certain parts of the classroom discussion were witnessed by Gregory Mason, the principal of Murray Language Academy, who had stopped in during Brown's class.
Two weeks later he was given notice of a disciplinary hearing in regard to his "prohibited the use of 'verbally abusive language to or in front of [a] student.'" After the hearing, he was suspended for five days without pay. He then filed a lawsuit alleging violations of his First Amendment and Due Process rights.
Last week, the district court in Brown v. Chicago Bd. of Educ., 2013 WL 5376570 (N.D. Illinois 2013), issued an opinion rejecting the school board's motion to dismiss in regard to the First Amendment claim. The motion to dismiss was largely premised on the Supreme Court's holding in Garcetti v. Ceballos, but the district court reasoned that teachers still retain certain First Amendment protections in those areas of classroom instruction where the school has left teachers with some discretion. Based on Brown's allegations, his actions and statements would fall in this category. The court, however, granted the school board's motion in regard to the due process claims.