Teacher fired for hemp stand to get $70,000

By MELISSA ARNOLD State Journal Staff Writer Published:

The Shelby County School District will pay Donna Cockrel, a former teacher, $70,000 to settle her law suit claiming she was wrongfully fired over several issues, including her promotion of hemp.

The settlement with Cockrel, formerly of Frankfort and now teaching in Detroit, was reached Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Frankfort where jury selection was to begin in the suit filed in 1997.

Cockrel came under fire in 1996 when she invited actor Woody Harrelson, an industrial hemp advocate, to talk to her fifth grade students at the Simpsonville Elementary School about his cause.

Accompanying Harrelson were a retired banker and hemp farmers from nations where it's a legal crop. This topic related to Cockrel's agricultural class about alternative crops that could preserve the environment. But hemp is controversial because it can be smoked, causing marijuana-like effects. Cockrel also taught about other fiber crops.

Harrelson made two trips to the the Simpsonville school in 1996 and 1997. School officials approved both visits. Forty-four students were kept home one January day in 1997 by their parents to protest Harrelson's visit becasue they contended he was an unfit role model.

In July of 1997, the school board fired Cockrel, listng 17 reasons, including disparagement of the school's "Just Think" program and insubordination.

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