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Drummed Out : Her Lack of Candy Sales Strikes Sour Note With Band

November 12, 1987|JEFFREY MILLER | Times Staff Writer

No one argued with the performance of Lisa Ortiz as the drum major at Northview High School in Covina, where for the last two years she has twirled a baton and led the school's marching band across gridirons and down parade routes.

Ortiz, 17, has seven trophies to attest to her abilities.

But she found herself on the sidelines last month because of poor off-the-field performance--she didn't sell enough candy.

The senior drum major sold only one box of chocolate bars--$24 worth--during the annual campaign to raise money for the band.

She was dismissed by the band's new director, Rick England, who said her failure to sell more candy reflected a "poor attitude" and set a bad example for other band members.

After the principal and the school board rejected her appeals, Ortiz and her father filed suit last week in Pomona Superior Court against the Covina-Valley Unified School District alleging that the dismissal was capricious, unwarranted and violated her rights to due process.

They are seeking unspecified damages for emotional distress caused by loss of her position, which the honors student said could hurt her chances of being accepted by USC or UCLA.

Ortiz said she is not really interested in winning damages, but merely wants a preliminary injunction expunging the blot from her school records. Pomona Superior Court Judge Peter S. Smith will hear her motion for an injunction Nov. 24.

"I'd just like to be reinstated as drum major," Ortiz said. "He treated me really unfairly. . . . Band's been my life. I've put everything I have into it."

Neither England nor district Supt. Jack Rankin would comment, but in a dismissal notice sent to Ortiz's parents, England cited her "lack of initiative." In the candy sale, he said, "Lisa was intending to sell none until I required her to take at least one box."

Explained Northview Principal Roy Moore: "It wasn't because she didn't sell the candy, it's the attitude she showed in not wanting to."

Ortiz's attorney, Daniel N. Fox, contends that Northview officials violated a state law that allows public schools to ask students to raise money for extracurricular programs, but says they cannot make fund-raising mandatory.

"To attempt to use traditional school discipline to attempt to wring money out of children is wrong," Fox said.

The Northview band members were given boxes containing 48 chocolate bars, which they sold for 50 cents each. The band earned a $12 profit from each box.

Ortiz said she wasn't aware that she had not sold enough chocolate until England took away her baton. She said she has always sold candy in the past and never had trouble with the two other directors the band has had since she joined as a freshman.

"He'd only been here three weeks," Ortiz said of England. "I thought we were getting along well, communicating well, but obviously we weren't."

Moore said that although Ortiz is a good student, he supported England in the dispute because he believes the band cannot be led by a student who, in effect, marches to the beat of a different drum.

"It is a unique position, like the editor of the yearbook or the quarterback of the football team," Moore said of the drum major's post. "The football coach can't operate with a quarterback that's not agreeing with what he wants to do. The band director can't work with a drum major who disagrees with what he wants to do."

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