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'Bruno' accused of exploiting students

June 30, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines has some harsh words for comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Cortines says Cohen took advantage of a photo shoot at Birmingham High School to produce a "soft porn" magazine spread.

"I don't believe that there is a place on any high school in America, including Los Angeles, for photos such as these," Cortines said.

If there's one thing Sacha Baron Cohen is good at, it's getting noticed. And the actor's latest stunt is certainly getting the attention of the LAUSD's front office.

Cohen, dressed as the gay character "Bruno" in his new film of the same name, posed with several Birmingham High School football players in this month's issue of GQ magazine. It's billed as a comedy issue, but Ramon Cortines is not laughing.

Cortines reportedly has said the photographs smack of "soft porn."

But people Eyewitness News talked to said that with major budget cuts and school layoffs, the LAUSD has much bigger issues to tackle.

"The school board should concentrate on other things, like trying to keep their schools running correctly, without worrying about little problems like this," said Mickey Schechter, Malibu Lake resident.

"If they have all the proper clearances and the legalities and contracts are signed -- fine. From that point of view, that's fine. I mean, obviously this is a shock factor, and that's what Sacha Baron Cohen is known for," said Mike Lee, West Hills resident.

Tuesday morning, Birmingham High football players were clearly aware of the "Bruno" controversy. ABC7 was asked to leave the campus before talking to any of the students. The school principal wouldn't talk, nor would the District 1 superintendent, Jean Brown.

According to an LAUSD news release, "appropriate personnel action" was taken against the school's principal, Marsha Coates, and athletic director Rick Prizant. According to the news release, an LAUSD investigation found that parental consent was given for the photo shoot held in April, but the specific nature of the shoot was not stated.

There was no word on the nature of the disciplinary action against the principal and athletic director. LAUSD school personnel matters are confidential by law.

About the only one talking is Cohen. His act is known for generating publicity and ticket sales, and in this case, a little heartache for a school district already feeling other kinds of pain.

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