got rent?

Did Corona Del Mar High Just Shiv Rent‘s Drama Teacher?


As Queerty first told you about in February, the principal of Orange County’s Corona Del Mar High School originally refused to let students stage a production of Rent because it was too gay. It led to a faceoff between anti-gay Principal Fal Asrani and drama teacher Ron Martin. In the end, Martin’s side won: Students got to have their show. Then Asrani was removed (sorry, she “resigned”). And now, uh, Martin has been booted by the school?

This drama just keeps on going!

falasraniAsrani was replaced by Tim Bryan at Corona Del Mar following the controversy, but she had no problem finding a new job: she’s now “administrator for program improvement at the Antioch Unified School District in the Bay Area, just two months after she reportedly accepted a contract to work as assistant superintendent of a group of struggling schools in Los Angeles,” relays Daily Pilot.

But what about back in Orange County? What happened to drama teacher Martin? He’s been placed on administrative leave. School officials won’t elaborate, saying Martin’s removal is related to a “personnel matter.” But it sounds like retribution for Asrani’s ousting, according to Martin.

He posted on Facebook: “Today I was placed on administrative leave because it is alleged that I stated that I got a certain person fired. It is interesting that the week after we form the first GSA [Gay-Straight Alliance] on the campus I am put on leave. It is also interesting that the district kept using the word alleged, referring to the former principal’s statement about not canceling Rent, and she was never placed on leave. Don’t let ignorance prevail.”

Nevermind that it’s weird for teachers to post on Facebook for all their students to see, but he’s got the whole old “Save Rent” page behind him. It’s being led by Karyl Ketchum, the mother of student Hail Ketchum, “who played an HIV-infected exotic dancer in the final, administration-approved version of Rent. Hail Ketchum was threatened with rape and murder in an invective-laced online video by a group of Corona del Mar student athletes. None of the athletes was expelled for making the video, which was filled with anti-gay and misogynistic slurs and posted on Facebook, despite the district’s zero-tolerance policy on bullying.” (Watch the video here. It’s terrible.)

Karyl posted to the Facebook page Tuesday:

RON MARTIN, DIRECTOR OF “RENT” NEEDS OUR HELP!!! Ron Martin, the director who fought so hard to put on Corona del Mar High School’s award-winning production of “Rent,” is now being retaliated against by the Newport-Mesa Unifi…ed School DIstrict and received notice today (Oct 20, 2009) that he can no longer go on campus or speak with students. The timing on this is significant for two reasons. First, this week was to be the first official meeting of the school’s brand new Gay Straight Alliance (GSA)–a social and support group for kids who are gay/questioning or kids that care about protecting and supporting friends who are gay. Mr. Martin is the group’s faculty advisor and, without him, it will not be able to meet.

Second, now that the ACLU lawsuit has been settled, Mr. Martin is vulnerable to the school’s retaliation for putting on “Rent” and for his efforts on behalf of the gay students and women students at the school. Ron Ma…rtin has been creating a safe and creative place for students for years in a school that is famously and dangerously homophobic and misogynistic. We need to flood the school and district phone lines and email with complaints and DEMAND THAT RON MARTIN BE RESTORED TO HIS POSITION AS CORONA DEL MAR HIGH THEATRE DIRECTOR AND GSA ADVISOR IMMEDIATELY. Newport-Mesa Superintendent Jeffrey Hubbard can be reached here, [email protected] or 714-424-5033. Corona del Mar High Principal Tim Bryant can be reached here, 714-424-5000.

That message was met with this one, from (new?) Drama Club President Heather Shields:

There have obviously been a lot of rumors flying around about what’s going on with Elephant Man, Mr. Martin, and the drama department here at CdM. While we appreciate your concern, we want to emphasize the importance of staying calm, not spreadi…ng or listening to rumors, and being discrete. Whatever links have been sent, pages, blogs, groups, petitions, etc., please disregard them. Kaylyn Nese, Carlie Rinehart, and I have everything under control and do not need what’s going on to blow out of proportion. This is a new year, we have marvelous shows in line, we’re off to a great start, and we don’t need more problems or discontent.

Thankfully, we have administrative support and are working with them to resolve this issue. We shall let you know if anything comes up, and if we need your help, we’ll alert you.

Thank you again for all of your support. We… appreciate your concern and understanding. Again, please be discrete, silence rumors, and wait until we sort things out, before taking any action. Thank you again!

Heather Shields
Drama Club President

We don’t yet have all the facts here, and only administrators know why Martin was placed on administrative leave. But something is definitely curious. And there are all the indicators that his “leave” is a direct result of those sympathetic to Asrani forcing him out.

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  • Tweek

    I missed the video. Can I get a link? The one in the article links to the article about the video, but there is no link to the actual video.

  • SurfNicaragua

    First of all, Asrani was not fired, she resigned. School districts don’t fire principals for anything short of felony charges; they’re more likely to “reassign” them to another school, or a district office job. Now it’s probable that they were crossing their fingers (and maybe sacrificing small children to pagan gods)in hopes that she would move on. She was, after all, the center of not one but several controversies (not all of them made the press, but they were there.) The firestorm of criticism over the Rent issue is dwarfed by the larger issue: Asrani’s mistake was staying at CdM long enough for her “management style” to generate this kind of backlash. She either needs to do some soul-searching, or she needs to stay on the move.

    Secondly, it should be no surprise that Martin was targeted. It isn’t about a controversial play or any gay rights issues – he committed the sin of being willing to wield students, parents and the media as a weapon. That makes him dangerous.

  • Jack

    First, thank you Queerty, for keeping us informed about this school.

    The only good news in this post is that, apparently, Corona Del Mar has finally formed a Gay-Straight Alliance. This school has a long, impressive list of extra-curricular organizations, and until now, a support group for gays has been inexcusably absent.

    It will take some time for this campus to heal from the malignancy of the Arsani Reich. Can any Queerty readers comment about Tim Bryan, the new principal?

    How the National Day of Silence and Harvey Milk Day are observed at Corona Del Mar may be a barometer of healing.

    This teacher needs our support, and so do the LGBT students at this school.

    In the past, Corona Del Mar High School has boasted about having been awarded a “blue ribbon” by the National Department of Education. This status is up for re-evaluation on a periodic basis. A school that tolerates discrimination in any form has no business receiving a national award. This needs to be on everyone’s radar.

    Please, Queerty, keep us informed about this matter and let us know what we can do to help this teacher.

  • Tripp

    After last year’s conflict and public relations debaucle, placing Ron Martin on leave for anything but a grave reason was a terrible administrative decision. The people in charge should be doing everything in their power to bring stability to this school.

    Let’s hope that the new principal is a leader rather than a dictator. The principal’s office at Corona Del Mar has a revolving door. I believe there have been at least six principals in the last ten years — so much for institutional memory. The turnover rate is a sign that something is very wrong here.

  • SurfNicaragua

    I think the new principal (Tim Bryan) was specifically chosen to rebuild the bridges between administration, staff and community. He is a soft-spoken man which puts people at ease for now (even Martin, he was quoted in the press as saying that Bryan is “supportive”)

    Corona del Mar has a high principal turnover rate because it is a notoriously difficult school to manage. The community has a lot of politically and financially powerful members, and it can be particularly aggressive about pressuring the school and district administration for results (whether or not said results are beneficial for the education of the students.) It also has a strong-willed teaching staff, who (thanks to Asrani) have added union backing to their methods of dealing with administration.

    I’m not going to say that CdM doesn’t have a gay tolerance issue. I would say that CdM’s tolerance issue is really not any more severe than any other high school campus. (Of course, that’s not trying to excuse incidents like this) I think the problem is that the issue was mishandled from the start. Asrani’s conservative beliefs probably did play into it (she was rumored to have expressed pro Prop 8 views to a classroom), but I think moreover she was trying to avoid backlash from the conservative community over Rent; she’s a politician, and all politicians have a fierce sense of self-preservation. But she didn’t anticipate the gay tolerance issue being used against her.

  • Jack

    It seems that SurfNicauragua has good insight on this situation. Serving an educated, economically advantaged and politically astute community is a double-edged sword.

    The citizens value education and have the interest and know-how to lobby for items like funding. Their high expectations can help to maintain a level of excellence.

    On the other edge, when it comes to education, too many people think they’re experts, and I’m sure some of their demands are occasionally misguided and unrealistic.

    It sounds like CdM is the kind of school where most parents think their progeny are “gifted” and noone’s kid ever gets enough playing time on the field or the court in athletics — a damned if you do and damned if you don’t kind of place.

    Still, a true leader can manage a situation like this and use all of these factors to the advantage of the student body. I imagine that the principal is paid a very handsome salary and that he earns every penny of it.

    The point remains: Ron Martin and the GLBT students at this school need outside support.

  • NewportBeachparent

    SurfNicaragua, your comments are insightful. The gay tolerance issue may have been her downfall, but she certainly had it coming, in more ways than one. In any event, Asrani’s gone now. Somehow, we have to move forward and this action against Martin seems counter to that. What does the district expect to accomplish? Martin is the lightning rod. Now that Asrani is gone, this action exposes the District’s position more clearly. They should be thanking Martin, because if he hadn’t raised the gay tolerance issue, it’s possible that they would be dealing with something far worse as a result of Asrani’s “management style”. Let him get back to work.

  • SurfNicaragua

    NewportBeachParent, I think if you dissect the circumstances of Martin’s suspension, it becomes clearer. He’s under investigation for having claimed that he “got Fal fired.” The reason that statement is so threatening to the district is because it makes them look like the bad guys for forcing her out. They want it to be VERY clearly understood by all that she was NOT fired. It protects them from all sorts of legal backlash from Fal herself, including slander, wrongful termination, etc.

    Never mind that she wrote a letter to the entire CdM Community explaining the circumstances of her resignation. Is it possible that she fell victim to her own methods – forcing a “resignation” and then pressuring the individual announce it as their own decision? Possibly. Anyone in that position must know that it’s better to have resigned than to have been fired. But then again, Fal Asrani wouldn’t go down without a fight (and a bitter one at that.) I do believe she found an escape that wasn’t a defeat and she took it.

    I also believe that the district moved to replace her as quickly as they could. Honestly, have you ever seen the appointment of a “permanent” principal materialize in such short order? No lengthy interview process, no interim principal – It seems to me they took the opportunity to shut and lock the door behind her.

    Now, the allegations against Martin come from students/parents in his classes (he has many that are not his loyal drama students). As noble as his intentions were, there were people who did not like the negative light that CdM was cast in, and they chose to blame him, not Asrani. Also keep in mind that she had her supporters as well. Not to say that someone lied to get him in trouble, but it doesn’t take much to “creatively interpret” a teacher’s comments.

    I think that they should let him go back to work, but I also think that he should be very careful about what he says to who. Best not to even mention her name.

  • Brian

    This stinks. Even if the drama teacher did make such a remark, why would it result in an “administrative leave?” I’m not close to this situation, but I doubt that those are the drama teacher’s words verbatim. I agree with the above comments 2 through 8. I checked the school district’s and local media’s reports, and they made it quite clear that Arsani had just received her doctorate and had accepted a position elsewhere. Seems like enough face saving to me.

    If “administrative leaves” are “administered” over something this trivial, the teachers at CdM really do need a strong teachers union. I believe you should only use a leave like this if the presence of the employee poses a danger or threat to those around him/her, and that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case here. I would think that a discreet investigation followed by (depending on the findings) a documented counseling conference or a letter of counseling would me more than enough.

  • AnotherNewportParent

    The video can be viewed here [though a warning, it is very graphic]:

    And, on that same page is a link to an article printed in the school’s magazine condoning the idea that “gay jokes are just funny.” Here is a copy of that link:

    There is is a growing movement in Newport Beach to oust Superintendent Jeffrey Hubbard and replace four School Board members who are up for re-election–for the sake of the kids here and the LGBT teachers at CdM who are locked into the closet–let’s hope this is successful.

  • SurfNicaragua

    Brian, I think in any other circumstance they might have gone with a discreet investigation. But Martin makes them nervous because he has proven not to be discreet himself. He is a talented and inspiring drama teacher, but diplomacy isn’t his strong suit. Granted, it was impossible to be diplomatic where Asrani was concerned, but it may do the district more harm than good if he continues to go to war with the entire upper brass.

    I’m not saying that the suspension was the right thing to do. I’m just saying that unleashing another firestorm maybe isn’t the way to go. Even Martin’s own students are pleading with everyone to hold off on action until more is known. They just want their teacher back.

    AnotherNewportParent, if there are more issues with Hubbard/Board Members besides Rent/CdM/Martin then the community should do what it must (After all, Rent was hardly the only reason why people wanted Asrani to leave.) But I have a feeling that some of the board were more sympathetic than they were allowed to show. District politics is a complicated maze of pitfalls. People in those positions often don’t have the freedom to jump on bandwagons. Remember that they spent most of their energy during the RENT fiasco just trying to figure out what actually happened in the meeting between Martin and Asrani. Like the rest of us, all they had was a “he said – she said.” In the mean time, they had to protect Asrani, simply because her positon made her a direct link to the district administration. You can be sure they didn’t enjoy having to do that.

  • AnotherNewportParent

    @SurfNicaragua- Do you also “have a feeling” about why these folks elected to ignore threats of rape and murder directed at the lead actress of Rent even when they were made a second time on campus during school hours? Or, why a video filled with homophobia went completely unaddressed?

  • SurfNicaragua

    AnotherNewportParent, No I don’t have as much insight into the video threat as I do the Asrani/Martin interaction. There is a controversy as to whether or not it should have been a school or a police issue, but one way or another I agree that it should have been addressed for what it was. Understand that I am not advocating that people be released from the responsibility of their decisions. I do not know the extent of the involvement (or lack thereof) of the district administration in this matter.

    Many school organizations (at CdM and elsewhere) have policies that mandate program expulsion for a student who violates the expected behavior code – if they are caught drinking underage for example. Certainly something should be said about inequity if such standards didn’t apply to athletes as well.

    It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened. I remember hearing an entire radio talk program dedicated to a controversy involving high school football players (not CdM) who wanted to taunt their rival school whose mascot was the “Warriors” or the “Redskins.” The only problem is, they decided to steal a real totem pole from a nearby reservation and burn it on their rival’s campus in the wea hours of the morning. I think the players (who were obviously caught) were suspended for one or two games, but were allowed to complete the season otherwise. It turns out, a couple of them were star players and the school’s only hope of doing well in the league finals. You can imagine the outcry that resulted from that.

    The greatest tragedy is that the people who committed the greatest offense may never understand the scope of their actions. You can punish a person, but how do you get them to look in the mirror and realize that they have demonstrated the worst kind of human behavior? How do you demand remorse?

  • NewportBeachparent

    SurfNicaragua, your comment about the greatest tragedy really hits the situation here. A lot of bad human behavior went on in this drama. We have Asrani, who may not ever feel remorse about the terrible way she treated so many kids, mine included. If I could, I would want to take some credit for her “resignation”. The kids who made the video may not be looking in the mirror at their young age, but they will suffer the consequence of the video and court transcript being connected to their name on Google for who knows how long. I knew one of these kids in elementary school and how could he be as bad a person as Asrani? She presided over a school culture that elevated bullying to it’s highest level. Should she be considered responsible for that, or do we tell Mr. Martin to just shut up and take it? On the other side, I think it’s good to move on. Still, I would like to see a change of heart at the District level. It saddens me to think that we all still have to be afraid.

  • SurfNicaragua

    Asrani won’t ever repent. It isn’t in her wiring. She’ll get to the end of her career and wonder why more people don’t respect and admire her for the amazing resume’ she’ll no doubt acquire over the years.

    As for the boys, it’s hard to say. Some of us regret the hurt we caused in our past. Some write it off as youthful ignorance. Others never admit to anyone, including themselves, that any wrong was ever done. What will they teach their children, I wonder – that if you feel wronged by a significant other, you have a moral right to say or do anything to publicly degrade them? What if it was their child who was threatened thus?

    I wouldn’t tell Martin to “shut up and take it.” I would tell him to be careful. The district isn’t out to punish him for what he’s done, they’re afraid of what he’ll do next. Word on the street is that he’ll be back in the classroom soon, and that the issue has been dropped. What they’ll remember, however, is that he rallied his troops again, waving the flag of intolerance. It’s another brick in the wall between them. What people should be concerned about is that laying low isn’t in HIS wiring. Friends would do well to counsel him.

    Again, I don’t know how things unfolded behind closed doors with the lawsuit but it seems to me that a lot of the reason for conflict walked out with Asrani. After all, in her eyes, making threats wasn’t a big of a crime as was being an unmotivated student or a poor tester.

  • Newport Family

    SurfNicaragua: These boys didn’t “publicly degrade” they threatened rape and murder. Your suggestion that Martin should “be careful” and that he rallied “his” troops is troubling and misleading. Are you suggesting that telling the truth about the District and the Board’s abominable behavior when it comes to protecting a young woman from threats of this magnitude or, that speaking the truth regarding the Board’s callousness toward gay students and women in general may result in retaliation on the part of the Board/District? And, it is ludicrous to suggest that Martin controls the press. The media goes where there is a story, and the story here is that that Board and that District cared more about protecting the atheltes at the school (and even giving them awards for their prowess) than they did a talented young woman and a vocal group of LGBT students. FAIL. Cut the diplomacy–the time for that is long gone. Time now for a new Board and a new Superintendent that understands their first priority should always be to protect students and insure that they have a safe place to learn…duh.

  • SurfNicaragua

    Newport Family, I am not trying to lessen the severity of the threat made on video, or suggest that people should ignore it. Yes, it was a rape and a murder threat. Perhaps (and I’m just playing Devil’s advocate here) the young men involved were just spouting off adolescent angst and bravado, and didn’t expect anyone to take them seriously. It doesn’t matter. The lesson of Columbine High School is that people need to read the writing on the wall where signs of hostility are concerned. And if you re-read the context in which I said “publicly degrade” I was trying to make the point that the larger issue behind whether or not these boys are punished is that fact that what they REALLY need is to understand that what they did was beyond wrong, it was the worst sort of depravity. Unfortunately, no punishment can guarantee that. Yes, punish them – but in the end it’s a matter of whether or not they will grow a conscience.

    When I say Martin should be careful, I am saying it for his own sake. I want him to keep his job. I want the LGBT students to be able to establish a legitimate entity on campus. I want the school, community and district to rethink it’s approach to the issues that this controversy has brought to the table. The lesson Asrani still has yet to learn is that when you force things on people, they won’t respond positively to it. And if a war continues to be waged at CdMHS you will find the community will split even further, and everyone will stand to lose from it.

    I can see your anger and frustration, and I don’t mean to deny you that. I can see that we have a desire for a similar outcome (a safe, tolerant campus,) but different perspectives on how to achieve that. For that reason, I think that it is important that we all continue to talk and listen to each other. You can take the Malcolm X approach, or you can take the Martin Luther King Jr. approach. Somewhere in there is the answer.

  • Newport Family

    SurfNicaragua, MLK’s methods, while certainly preferred, don’t work with this District or Board; just ask the Ketchum family.

  • former student

    As someone who was a former student at the school as well as embroiled in the RENT controversy, I’m disappointed at this situation. The school was in a good place to be moving forward, and then the District stupidly unleashes another media firestorm. They are overshadowing and perhaps preventing positive progress at the school. They should also know that Mr. Martin, though he is in the right in this situation, is very much a lighting rod. They should have known that doing this to him would start up a HUGE fight. I agree with whoever suggested that Jeffrey Hubbard be replaced. He is incompetent and absolutely ridiculous, and most of my opinion is actually grounded in events and actions unrelated to the RENT controversy. We need an actual COMPETENT superintendent. He is also very divisive in his actions which will never lead to progress in our schools nor keep them running. As for Asrani, I think we all knew she wasn’t going to be back for the entire school year, but I think its important to note that she actually ended up with a far superior job as well as salary. She was definitely the kind of person who treats each job as a stepping stone, and its strange that after this negative controversy she ended up in a ‘better’ situation.

  • Tim

    Well said, Former Student. Don’t you think homophobia is at the root of all of this? And, don’t you think that the former dictator, I mean principal, is in a better place because the monied conservatives took care of one of their own?

  • leegeranios

    You people have no idea who Ron Martin really is. I am his first cousin. Ron is a complete fraud. He does not love gay people. He just likes to be the center of a controvery. He lives for it. Ron’s brother, Craig Perry, was gay and died of AIDS in 1991. Ron would have nothing to do with Craig because he was gay. Ron sent him a terrible letter telling him he was going to hell. Ron did not visit Craig when he was dying. Ron did not go to his funeral. Ron’s name was excluded from Craig’s obituary because of his attitude towards Craig. Ron’s behavior towards his brother was SHAMEFUL!!! You just have no idea!!!!!

  • Newport Family

    @ Leegranios: He had intimated as much to many of us and, it is now obvious, that this is why Ron does what he does; minds and hearts can change (thank goodness!)–particulalry as time passes and regrets begin to take their toll. I hear your sadness and anger. You need not believe it or understand it but, many of us have witnessed his committment to lgbt students even despite the fact that this has often put his job in jeopardy given the homophobia at Corona del Mar High.

  • leegeranios

    @Newport Family. You believe what you want. I know him better than you do.

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