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3 L.A. teachers suspended over Black History Month celebration

The white educators allegedly encouraged students to carry pictures of O.J. Simpson, Dennis Rodman and RuPaul at a parade at Wadsworth Avenue Elementary School.

March 03, 2010|By Alexandra Zavis

Three teachers at a South Los Angeles elementary school have been suspended for allegedly encouraging students to celebrate O.J. Simpson, Dennis Rodman and RuPaul during Black History Month, officials said Wednesday.


FOR THE RECORD:
Teachers' suspension: An article in Thursday's LATExtra section about the suspension of three L.A. Unified teachers quoted Los Angeles Unified School District spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry as saying O.J. Simpson, Dennis Rodman and RuPaul were included on a list of prominent African Americans approved by Wadsworth Avenue Elementary School for study during Black History Month. Pollard-Terry later said only Simpson's name appeared on the approved list, which dated to 1985. She said the names of Rodman and RuPaul, among others, were added in pencil when teachers were selecting figures to highlight in a school parade, and were not seen by the school principal. —

Children at Wadsworth Avenue Elementary School were carrying pictures of the men at a parade Friday on the school playground, said Los Angeles Unified School District spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry.

She 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 grades.

"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."

Pollard-Terry said Simpson, Rodman and RuPaul were included on a list of prominent African Americans approved by the school for study during Black History Month.

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.

alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

Times staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.

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