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

March 11, 2010 |  3:52 pm

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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