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Teachers accused of mocking black history

March 4, 2010 12:14:55 AM PST
O.J. Simpson, Dennis Rodman and RuPaul: They aren't considered role models by most African Americans, but they were celebrated by students at a South L.A. elementary school for Black History Month.Three local school teachers at Wadsworth Avenue Elementary School in South Los Angeles have been removed from their classrooms and are under investigation in a controversy over Black History Month. Local civil rights leaders say they want the three teachers fired.

To climax Black History Month, students made posters of prominent African Americans selected by their teachers for a parade at Wadsworth Avenue Elementary.

There was a whole list of people, said student Jocelyn Diaz.

"The one that we did was Scott Joplin and Sam Cooke," said Diaz. "There were a lot of them."

There were many options, yet three teachers chose figures that have the community in an uproar: A felon, O.J. Simpson; flamboyant cross-dressing performer RuPaul; and Dennis Rodman, former professional basketball star.

African American leaders want the three teachers, who are Caucasian, fired. The teachers teach first, second and fourth grades.

Rev. Eric Lee, president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles, said the teachers' choices make a mockery of black history, and at a school where the majority of the students are Latino, activists said that only reinforces racial stereotypes.

"Their selection goes beyond ignorance. It speaks to arrogance and racism," Lee said. He added that the teachers' choices were approved by school administration, and said it's clear they conspired.

"For these three teachers to come up with those names is appalling when we have a Martin Luther King, we have a Nelson Mandela and we have a president Barack Obama," said Leon Jenkins, president of the Los Angeles NAACP.

The three teachers have been placed on administrative leave, but activists say that is not enough.

"Any time you allow teachers and adults who shape the minds and teach our children, allow them to have racist and stereotypical views about any culture, then they should not be teaching our children," said Lee.

The district is investigating the incident.

"It is more than questionable -- it is not acceptable, and from my standpoint it's sick," said LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines.

Cortines is taking the strongest action legally possible. The teachers are suspended temporarily without pay. By law he cannot fire them.

United Teachers Los Angeles, the LAUSD teachers union, is noncommittal.

A UTLA statement said: "The matter is under investigation by both United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). UTLA's job is to ensure our members receive due process."

At Wadsworth Elementary Wednesday, adults wondered what those teachers were thinking.

"I wouldn't want my kids to be having to write about RuPaul," said one parent.

"As long as UTLA will defend performance like this of teachers, we are going to have a troubled education system and never be able to provide the quality of education our children deserve," said Rev. Lee.

It is uncertain how long the suspensions will last. The teachers could return to work in as soon as three days.