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

March 4, 2010 |  8:01 am

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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