Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said today that he was taking "appropriate personnel action" against the principal and athletic director of Birmingham High School for allowing comedian Sacha Baron Cohen to use the school's football team in a photo shoot.
Cortines declined to say what the action was, citing confidentiality rules. Depending on the nature of the discipline, it could become somewhat moot tomorrow when the Board of Education is scheduled to vote on Birmingham's petition to become an independent charter school. If that passes, Principal Marcia Coates and Athletic Director Rick Prizant would no longer be employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Cortines has been incensed by a photo shoot of Cohen, in his role as gay Austrian fashionista "Bruno," that appeared in the latest issue of GQ magazine and on its website. It showed the scantily clad comedian in poses with the Birmingham football team, including one on top of a player on the ground.
"I don't believe that there is a place on any high school in America, including Los Angeles, for photos such as these," Cortines said in a news release issued by his office.
Cortines said he recognized that some people believe he has overreacted to the shoot, which might be seen as tame in today's entertainment landscape.
“I think those that think it’s no big deal generally don’t have children on campus," he said. "I’ve gotten e-mails from grandparents, all sorts of adults … who are embarrassed by this and believe this shouldn’t have happened.”
Told that some who have commented to The Times had suggested he might have reacted as he did because the character played by Cohen is gay, the superintendent strongly disagreed. "It has nothing to do with whether one is heterosexual or homosexual," he said. "There is just no place for this kind of scene on a school campus using students.”
Birmingham was paid $500 for the shoot, according to the superintendent, and the players turned in parental consent forms. However, the district said an investigation determined that the forms did not specify the nature of the shoot. The district also said the photos violated California Interscholastic Federation rules, which prohibit students from wearing football uniforms out of season.
Prizant, who is the school's filming coordinator as well as its athletic director, was present when the photos were taken, according to the district.
Coates and Prizant declined to comment.