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Parents, students want to rename Cortines campus

Parents, students and staff have voted in favor of changing the name of the downtown Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts, setting up an unprecedented conflict within the nation’s second-largest school system.

It’s been less than a year since the Los Angeles Board of Education voted to name its visually striking, $232-million arts high school after Ramon C. Cortines, who had just retired as L.A. schools superintendent. Cortines, 80, has been a leading national figure in education, an advocate for the arts and was involved in establishing the arts high school.

But the school board, following the wishes of school board President Monica Garcia, overrode its own process for naming the school, angering students and parents who had been involved. Then, the issue flamed up further when a district employee sued Cortines alleging sexual harassment.

Last week, the school system, which was defending Cortines, prevailed in court because the harassment claim had not been filed in a timely manner, Judge William F. Fahey ruled. The judge did not evaluate the merits of the claim.

Cortines has said that he engaged in one incident of consensual “adult behavior” with the employee, Scot Graham, at his Kern County ranch in July 2010.

In balloting organized at the school, about 60% of participants opted for the name Grand School of Visual and Performing Arts, a reference to the Grand Avenue location, said former PTA leader Judi Bell, a member of the renaming committee.

“The school provides a grand education and grand opportunities…the building is grand,” the ballot argument read in part. “It sounds classy, short, simple and elegant.”

In second place, with 36%, was “Central #9 School of Visual and Performing Arts. The key point was to incorporate “#9,” which refers to the project number before the school was named—and the fact that the campus opened on Sept. 9, 2009. Many people still call the campus #9.

The current name attracted just under 4% of votes.

The ballot argument for keeping the current name read as follows: “LAUSD Board voted to use this name for the school in June 14, 2011, he is a retired LAUSD superintendent who was the superintendent when the school was opened, the current name should remain.”

Leaders of the effort now intend to bring the matter to the Board of Education for consideration. District policies allow for a school name to be changed, but in the past that rule has been applied to changing a generic name, such as a school named after its street location, to a name that honors an individual.

The process has probably never gone in reverse, nor so soon after a school was named.

Close to half the students voted as well as about 200 parents and 33 staff members.

Some participants said that district officials had actively discouraged the renaming discussion and that staff members had been ordered not to participate by senior district administrators.

Regional administrator Tommy Chang denied that there was a gag order. He said his directions were simply to avoid the issue during instructional time. He added that staff members should not advocate to students for or against a viewpoint, but that they were entitled to express their opinion through the voting process.

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Dorner probably died of self-inflicted gunshot, officials say

-- Howard Blume

 
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