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Villaraigosa shocked at celebration of O.J. Simpson, RuPaul, Dennis Rodman at L.A. Black History Month event [Updated]

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa expressed shock over allegations that three teachers at a South Los Angeles elementary school encouraged students to celebrate O.J. Simpson, Dennis Rodman and RuPaul during Black History Month.

The teachers have been suspended as the L.A. Unified School district investigates. According to officials, children at Wadsworth Avenue Elementary School were carrying pictures of the men at a parade Friday on the school playground.

"I am shocked and outraged by the actions of these teachers at Wadsworth Elementary School," Villaraigosa said in a statement. "These teachers undermined the school's well-intentioned celebration, and they did so at the expense of elementary school students. Their actions were not only cynical, but did a terrible disservice to the students, their families and all of the teachers who work hard on a daily basis to build trust and a productive learning environment."

Los Angeles Unified School District spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry said Supt. Ramon C. Cortines learned about the incident Tuesday and had the teachers, who are white, pulled from their classrooms for the duration of an investigation. The suspension is without pay for the first three days.

"The superintendent believes there are better choices," Pollard-Terry said.

Other students were carrying pictures of President Obama and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The teachers have not been identified and could not be reached for comment.

District officials did not provide specific details about what the teachers did, saying the investigation was still ongoing.

Some community leaders aren't satisfied with the suspensions and are calling for the dismissal of the instructors, who teach first, second and fourth graders.

"I just can't fathom what these teachers were thinking of except to make a mockery of African American history," said Leon Jenkins, president of the Los Angeles branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

L.C. "Chris" Strudwick-Turner of the Los Angeles Urban League likened the episode to a series of racially provocative incidents at UC San Diego, where a Feb. 15 off-campus party mocked Black History Month.

"These kinds of things build on each other," she said. "When something like that happens in [San Diego] and there is no immediate consequence, that emboldens others. That's why I was glad that LAUSD took them out of the classroom right away."

[Updated at 1:38 p.m.: Pollard-Terry said Simpson appeared on the approved list of Black History Month figures, which dates back to 1985. But the names of Rodman and RuPaul, among others, were added in pencil when teachers were selecting which prominent African Americans their classes would honor in the parade. The school principal did not see the list, which Cortines called a lack of oversight, said Pollard-Terry.]

She said the three teachers were believed to have suggested at least some of those names for the list.

The district dispatched a human relations and ethnic diversity team Wednesday to help the school prepare lessons that are "more appropriate for Black History Month," she added.

Strudwick-Turner said the Los Angeles Urban League has been told by people who attended the parade Friday that the teachers had been asked to instruct their classes on a notable African American and that they had selected Simpson, Rodman and RuPaul.

The mayor said in his statement that he hopes the situation will be resolved. "I urge the Los Angeles United School District to take swift and appropriate action with respect to the teachers involved. We cannot stand for such myopic behavior by those whom we entrust to teach and inspire the next generation," he said.

-- Alexandra Zavis

Photos: (left to right) O.J. Simpson, Dennis Rodman, RuPaul. Credit: KTLA News

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Comments () | Archives (67)

There is nothing wrong with RuPaul! It's outrageous that RuPaul, who has had to deal with so much bigotry and hatred for being brave enough to be himself should be likened to OJ Simpson. This kind of homophobia is typical of old gaurd minority community leadership and needs to stop. There are many young gay people of every color who need gay role models, black, latino, asian etc. especially.

What is ridiculous is the backlash. These are black people and they are part of black history. Period. One of them was the best running back I've ever seen, one was the best defensive forward the NBA has ever known, and one is a wildly successful entertainer. Has everyone gone nuts? As for OJ, he does not have to be celebrated to be studied as part of black history.

and you wonder why our children and community (African-American)have such a low sense of self-knowledge...it's been a historical legacy of the system of education in this country. It's just another example of another 'system' that needs to be rebuilt from the ground up, as well as the justice & economic systems, in order for any true future to be for our kids

When diversity overrides intellectual honesty, maybe it is time to end "Black History Month?"

History, good or bad, needs to be addressed, not buried by the "pleasure police" or the "selective learning" personnel.

The only reason this is an issue, is because they were allegedly white teachers. O.J. Simpson (one of the greatest football players, Dennis Rodman (one of the great basketball players) and RuPaul (he/she is ok in my book).
So, what is the really issue here, if you havn't figured it out by now. We still have racial divide in this country in case you havn't figured that out. There always will be and it won't change any time soon. So much for diversity!

What's wrong with RuPaul? He didn't kill anybody! He's not a drug addict wife abuser! He's the most famous drag entertainer to ever live. That's HISTORY people!!

They're all part of the Black experience, so let's keep it real, shall we?

What's wrong with Rodman...He hasn't committed any crimes has he...and he was a pro athlete millionaire...He dresses a little funny, but besides that...

Hey, let's return the 'favor' and carry pictures of Madoff, Ken Lay of ENRON, and Geo. W Bush....NONE of us is Free, to use Ray Charles' Song Title.

Okay, I get the outrage over OJ, maybe Dennis Rodman, but getting outraged over RuPaul is just bigotry. I am not a fan of the guy, but seriously, is Tony Vilar arguing that RuPaul is the moral equivalent of OJ?

While Simpson is clearly a fallen hero, thug, and a (finally) convicted and incarcerated criminal, what's the matter with Rodman and RuPaul? They are both highly successful in their fields. Rodman has taken responsibilty and addressed his personal issues, and RuPaul has never been anything but a consummate professional. They both certainly deserve to be recognized for Black History Month as much as any other African-Americans of note.

They need to fire these teachers, so in three years they go to court and get their jobs back for wrongful termination, back pay, punitive damages and missed out promotions...

LAUSD's educational system is in shambles, but you don't hear that much outrage about that....however, if you mock a made up month, everyone wants blood...
interesting, backwards, but interesting...

Well, lets see how fast the teacher's union gets out in front of this issue and publicly supports these three teachers, as they must be tenured and owed a job and pension for life.

I'm not living in the L.A. area at this time. I know it's hard to put in a nutshell....but I'm curious as I have school age kids too. What kind of problems are your kids dealing with?

Here, we must handle zoning issues, overuse of our special ed systems, substance abuse and dropouts among other things. I believe the teachers are under payed as well.

the point here is to look at the higher achievers in your race. go for the gold as they say in the olympics.

Anybody who tries to justify this behavior is more than dishonest and outright evil. These are impressionable kids and someone mockingly promoting any of these three individuals is outright ignorant, evil and does not deserve to be around children. OJ and Rodman, come on be honest -- this is a celebration meant to inspire children not introduce them to an alleged murderer or a pill-poppoing athlete. I can understand the concerns with Rupaul but I am sure the intent here was not to teach about gay lesbian bisexual community but rather to mock this lifestyle. The intent was absolute meant to mislead and as a parent I would have them fired immediately. I am sure that a celebration of history would not focus on Charles Manson, Hitler or any other morally suspect individuals. Be honest with yourselves and accept that this was simply wrong especially when it happens around children.

All ethnic groups should be acknowledged and their contributions to American society celebrated in the public schools. But when you single out one or two in a hyper-multi-ethnic environment, as we have here in Los Angeles, the efforts backfire.
No community should depend on the public schools to educate their children about their ethnicity. This is the responsibility of the family, their churches, and whatever organizations they create. My childhood Greek, Chinese, Japanese, and Jewish friends all went to their respective culture schools to learn history, language, religion, dance,etc. This is the model that has been proven to work, not bogus "Black History Months" and "Cinco de Mayo" fiestas.

I seem to remember video of large crowds of blacks cheering at the acquital of OJ Simpson. I thought that he was a hero to them, and now, since white teachers are putting it back in their faces they are offended? Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas. Tough!

Seriously, if you went to another country, opened up a grade 2 textbook and saw Bernie Madoff, Paris Hilton and Lady Gaga being listed as the three greatest Americans. You would be of the opinion that the author had an axe to grind.

Don't talk bad about the bad things black people have done in history, you will be fired !

I wish us white folks could pick and choose which white people were discussed in history, unfortunately you have to take the good with the bad.

Those teachers should be fired at the very least. What is wrong with people.

Interesting... The article never mentioned why the selections for black history month were inapparopriate or wrong. What's wrong with the selections? I think the school district is showing their true racist and homophobic colors.

I see a lot of "missing the point" posts here.

Rodman was a great NBA player. Simpson was a great player. RuPaul is an entertainer (great? I'm not so sure).

However, Rodman consistently role-modeled personal behavior that is inappropriate for not only other adults, but for children. Simpson killed TWO people...definitely not someone children should aspire to. And RuPaul..I'm sorry...but you don't have to be eccentric, flamboyant and flaming to be a non-heterosexual.

These figures were being used in a school setting to INSPIRE children during African-American History Month. As a teacher myself, when choosing lessons, one should be careful that the lesson being imparted aids the cause of developing healthy personalities, intellects, and behaviors in the children. Lord knows they already get plenty of negative stimuli from everywhere else! There are PLENTY of African-American personalities whose professional and personal lives are much more stable and honorable than these three individuals, and as teachers and parents, we should strive to promote THOSE figures. Unless kids are exposed to figures whose lives are full of dignity and stability, how can we be surprised that they will act out and follow in the footsteps of the role-models they're consistently exposed to? What's the point of having a Black History Month if it isn't to fight the never-ending wave of unstable role-models that our kids are bombarded with on TV, the Internet, and in other media?

And on a related note, I'm not convinced this was an accident. Three white teachers pick Simpson, Rodman, and RuPaul...arguably the three worst picks for black personalities, for their Black History showcase? Not buying it...sounds like they're smearing the whole practice of the history month.

What's wrong with RuPaul? I think he's a fabulous leader in the African American Community! He's a positive role model for transgenders and others who might want to be famous performers or singers! He even has his own cable television show! I don't think he should be considered a negative role model! In fact, I think he's a very positive role model! He's a businessman who knows how to sell his likeness of being an extremely talented dragqueen!

It only shows the inter-generational loss of knowledge. I'm sure p diddy will make the list next year. It's the digital age, the pop culture generation. It has not much to do with black, white or whatever.

The holier than thou folks have once again crept in and shown the ignorance they live by. The parade was supposed to be about prominent black men. Prominent means well-known, famous, and important, and all of these men are all of these things. Unfortunately, the positive aspirations these men have accomplished in their lives are overshadow by societies standards of good and bad which is all relative anyway.

Is Villaraigosa going to be cut from the list of prominent Hispanic men because he had an affair? Will George W’s name be omitted from the prominent president’s list because of his decision to needlessly send thousands of men and women to their deaths in a war that we could have avoided in the first place?

Society is so busy looking at the negative that we are thriving on it. If all you teach kids is the negative, then that’s all they will know. These men’s constructive accomplishments are note worthy regardless of what politicians or school leaders think.

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