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3 teachers in Black History Month incident to be reassigned, Cortines says [Updated]

Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times The superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District said Thursday that he would reassign three South Los Angeles elementary school teachers after they had their students display pictures of O.J. Simpson, Dennis Rodman and RuPaul in a Black History Month parade.

Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said he had no evidence that the teachers' actions were racially motivated. But he said, "I think it was an exercise of very poor judgment."

"That lack of judgment was not acceptable," he said. "These were not novice teachers."

The first-, second- and fourth-grade teachers at Wadsworth Elementary School were suspended without pay for three days last week and will be kept out of the classroom until they can be assigned to three schools, Cortines said.

United Teachers Los Angeles officials declined to say whether they would contest the suspensions or the transfers, saying that personnel matters are confidential under the union's contract with L.A. Unified. 

The teachers, who are white men and reportedly had a reputation as pranksters, have not publicly explained themselves. But Cortines said he was informed that one of them "understood my outrage and concern" and accepted the suspension.

Some civil rights leaders had demanded that the teachers be dismissed, saying their choices made a mockery of black history and reinforced racial stereotypes at a school that is more than 90% Latino.

Cortines said he took the maximum steps at his disposal and did not believe that dismissals were warranted. But because of the public outcry, he was advised that allowing the teachers to return to Wadsworth would be disruptive to the school, L.A. Unified spokesman Robert Alaniz said.

District officials said teachers selected names from an approved list, which included Simpson because it dated to 1985, long before the former NFL star was acquitted of murder and jailed for a botched robbery. Because the list was old, some teachers added names, such as President Obama, as well as controversial former NBA player Rodman and RuPaul, a famous drag queen. The principal did not see the additions and was not on campus when the parade took place Feb. 26, L.A. Unified spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry said.

[Updated at 3:40 p.m.: The principal was on campus at the time of the program but was busy disciplining three students, district spokesman Alaniz said.]

Cortines said that there had been a lack of oversight in the matter and that letters of reprimand were issued to the principal and another school administrator.

Cortines said the principal understood his position and had been "highly cooperative." Last week, Principal Lorraine Abner offered an apology in a letter addressed to parents and community members for the "questionable decisions" made about whom to highlight during the program.

The school will work with the district's Office of Human Relations, Diversity and Equity to help students and adults learn from the experience, the letter said.

-- Alexandra Zavis

Photo: Supt. Ramon C. Cortines. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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Comments () | Archives (84)

Please explain to me the reason for the outrage. O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder and a Heisman trophy winner. RuPaul is a famous celebrity. And Dennis Rodman helped win multiple NBA titles. Granted their current actions may not be fit our narrow views of normal but they have done good things. I guess we have to be PC with our role models as well. Sad actually

Again, the opposition to OJ Simpson and Rodman may be justified, but RuPaul? Seriously, are civil rights leaders themselves so bigoted that they would see it as an insult to honor a performer simply because he is transgendered? It's okay to honor African-Americans, as long as they are not queer, gay, lesbian, transgendered, or bisexual? Wow, talk about small-mindedness. Other than that, I see no problem with the district's actions.

the Los Angeles Unified School Dstrict and the Teacher's Union IS A JOKE!!!!!!!!

Well, I thought it was pretty funny....

Wow this is shocking. I can't believe teachers, not one, but 3, would promote that. That is a huge lack of judgement.

What a big load of P.C. nonsense. The three honorees in question at this parade were and still are greatly admired by many people because of their achievements. Not every black person has to look and act like M.L.K. or our president to be worth holding up as a role model.

Gosh, can you imagine a non-union job where you could cause that much distress to your employer AND YOUR CUSTOMER and not get fired? Think about that.

If the teachers "selected names from an approved list," which the article says included Simpson, Rodman, and RuPaul, how is it they are guilty of any misconduct? If those three were unacceptable representatives of the Black community, they should have been removed as options by an administrator.

Why are the teachers re-assigned. They are just going to do the same thing, somewhere else. Ignorance is a disease, not a mental laspe.

Hardworking, dedicated teachers in LAUSD are getting pink slips. Money is tight, cuts are being made all around, and many qualified people are looking for jobs, but these known pranksters with poor judgment get to stay employed "teaching" our kids who-knows-what at taxpayer expense. All because apologists and sympathizers want passive-aggressive racism to be treated as stealth. Great job, Cortines. If one of them said he understood your outrage and concern, isn't that an admission of guilt?

Reassigned? Those teachers should be FIRED and not allow to teach in any classroom, anywhere!

Now that was funny.

'Reassigned' is just code for doing nothing.

Funny, how all of a sudden the teachers are moved. UTLA is not fighting it? Wow! Seems like AJ is picking his battles a little more carefully.

Everyone one of them needs to fired for not following California State History Social Science Standards.

With LAUSD layoff/jobs on the line I find it interesting that 3 white teachers after not following standards would be retained.

I remember seeing a lot of black people cheering after OJ was found innocent of murdering Nicole and Ron. Why has the cheering stopped? Is it because the teachers are white?

What up? Ain't I good enough to be a role model?

Those three names aren't african americans?

Websters defines racism as: "a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination."

By definition, black history month IS racist. It discriminates against all other persons who are not black and therefore, I believe it is hard to make a mockery of a mockery.

These teacher's did a fantastic job of bringing to light the irony that is black history month.

It's amazing how white people create a soft cushion for their OWN. The Times calls it "a blunder" and uses other another soft word "pranksters" anything to deflect criticism from these so call teachers. The only thing the Times got right in this article that they were 3 white men. Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines is an embarrassment to any superintendent in this nation who care about the kids they are responsible for. This is why LAUSD is in the pitiful condition it is in because of those type teachers and their boss.

This is stupid! Regardless, these Black Men did things that were extraordinary! I don't see the ACLU or other civil rights groups going in an uproar over our nation celebrating the likes of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson - ALL SLAVE OWNERS! And yet, our children are taught that these were the Fathers of our country! I don't know about you, but I would not be judged well if I looked up to my Father if he were slave owner. Rupaul is an amazing BLACK INDIVIDUAL! He has done more to elevate the class and esteem amongst the gay and Transexual community... more than the rocky horror picture! And Dennis Rodman, amazing BLACK ATHLETE! The worst thing he did was date Madonna, other than than he expresses his own lifestyle through his craziness... but it's his own! GET OVER IT!!! CORTINES SHOULD NOT HAVE BUCKLED UNDER PRESSURE AND LET THIS ISSUE GET HOW IT DID!~

send them to west la, that was the purpose of their prank.

why is RuPaul in bad taste? Are black leaders a bunch of homophobes? Isn't it ironic that the same people fighting for equality are fighting against gays and lesbians?

why is rue paul considered a prank. i thought the district does not discrimate based on race, sexual orientation or transgender. this is total racisim and teaches that transgender is wrong; totally the opposite of what the disctrict claims. it appears the lausd is opening themselves up for a law suit here.

gosh, i am so disappointed in these stories in LA and San Diego. People! It's really easy to celebrate black history month. Really! It's really easy to reach out and bond with others.

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