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Hawthorne charter school apologizes for disparaging passage on test

September 16, 2013|By Stephen Ceasar

Charter school operator Da Vinci Schools apologized Monday after learning that one of its teachers wrote disparaging remarks about nearby Hawthorne High School and its students on a history exam.

The exam, given to an 11th-grade history class at Da Vinci Science, included the passage: “Little known fact: The early years at Jamestown were characterized by violence, a lack of knowledge and the presence of many women of questionable moral character. A little like modern-day Hawthorne High School.”

Above the passage was an image of the Hawthorne High School campus, which is less than two miles from the Da Vinci Science campus. Da Vinci Schools operates four independent campuses, all in Hawthorne.

A letter sent to the Da Vinci Schools board of trustees by an attorney representing Centinela Valley Union High School District, which includes Hawthorne High, called the passage “morally reprehensible” and said that the school’s community was outraged and hurt by the comment.

“It is disconcerting that a Da Vinci teacher would so callously and cavalierly refer to Hawthorne students or staff as uneducated and prone to violence, and even go so far as to question the chastity of Hawthorne’s young women,” said Sue Ann Salmon Evans, the attorney who wrote the letter.

Da Vinci Schools Executive Director Matthew Wunder said the teacher responsible will remain out of the classroom until the matter is reviewed by the board of trustees later this week.  

"We deeply, deeply regret that this has occurred and are very sorry,” he said.

In a letter to Centinela Valley Union High School District Supt. Jose Fernandez, Wunder said the remark violated the mission of the charter schools.

"We hope you can accept our apology, with the understanding that we will ensure all stakeholders learn from this situation, and that together we can rebuild the trust that we shared until this incident,” the letter said.

The school district learned of the exam after images posted online were seen by students at Hawthorne High, then passed along to their teachers and then administration, Fernandez said.

"It’s a very unfortunate event and I know that everyone at the school was extremely disturbed by it,” he said in an interview. “That’s why we responded in the way that we did."

Da Vinci partners with Centinela Valley Unified for clubs and programs. Wunder said it's a good, working relationship. 

The teacher, whose name was not released, is a veteran of the classroom, Wunder said.

“He’s a teacher who has had an outstanding track record, is very well respected, and goes above and beyond  for the kids -- so this is very surprising,” Wunder said.

The Da Vinci Schools, which are independently run and publicly financed, enroll students who choose to attend the charters rather than their local traditional campuses.

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stephen.ceasar@latimes.com | Twitter: @stephenceasar


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