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State Agency Accuses High School District of Race Discrimination

April 04, 1991|KIM KOWSKY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The state Department of Fair Employment and Housing has accused the Centinela Valley Union High School District and its board of trustees of racial discrimination against two high-ranking former black employees at Hawthorne High School.

The accusations are the first formal complaints filed against the district in the wake of two student demonstrations in March, 1990, during which 2,500 students at Hawthorne and Leuzinger high schools boycotted classes to protest alleged discrimination against blacks.

In its accusations, the state agency declared that former Hawthorne Principal Kenneth Crowe and former security chief Jerome Brown endured "a racially hostile work environment, disparaging racial remarks" and false charges by school district officials.

The agency also accused the district's teachers union of contributing to the discrimination against Crowe by trying to undermine his administration.

The charges are to be considered by an administrative law judge, who will recommend whether the school district, its officials and the teachers union should be found to have violated state regulations prohibiting racial discrimination. The judge's recommendation then will be reviewed by the Fair Employment and Housing Commission, which makes the final decision in the case.

If discrimination is found, the commission could order the school district to compensate Crowe and Brown, who have left the district. The commission also could order the district to develop racial sensitivity training programs for its employees.

Dates for hearings before the administrative law judge have not been set.

Larry Frierson, an attorney for the district, denied the discrimination charges and said school officials intend to fight them.

Neil Minami, president of the Centinela Valley Secondary Teachers Assn., called the accusations "outrageous" and said, "We're not going to respond to that because it's not true."

Crowe, who resigned as principal of Hawthorne High after being demoted in June to a teaching position, became principal of Inglewood High in the Inglewood School District in August. Brown, who was suspended from the Centinela district for six months in December on charges that he disobeyed his superiors, threatened a district official and interfered with the arrest of a student, resigned in January.

Both Crowe and Brown first complained to the fair employment and housing agency of racial discrimination on March 19, 1990, shortly after the student walkouts on March 5 and 6.

In its investigation, the agency found evidence that Crowe's demotion "was not justified and was motivated by a desire to further harass (Crowe) by means of unlawful discrimination on the basis of his race."

The agency accused the trustees, the teachers union and other district officials of supporting and encouraging the distribution of racially offensive cartoons, including one that said Crowe's appointment as principal would lead to the demise of Hawthorne High, and the circulation of a black mannequin allegedly meant to be a replica of Crowe.

The agency also accused the trustees of subjecting Crowe to a number of false charges, including that he had hired only black teachers. "Only two of (his) 27 appointments to teaching positions have been black," the agency said.

The state agency also accused the teachers association of undertaking a special evaluation of Crowe's administration in March, 1989, in order to "aid and abet the discriminatory acts" of the district and its trustees.

In the case of Brown, the agency found evidence that he had been exposed to "racially derogatory epithets and slurs" by white teachers, and that trustees had falsely charged him in October, 1989, of abusing a Latino student who had attacked him.

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