LAUSD Rents Out Schools for Racy Entertainment

NBC4 investigates how some raunchy jokes and sexy shoots are interfering with student learning

This is the first of two stories on the impact on Hollywood filming on Los Angeles public schools. The second story is available here.

UPDATE: LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines Thursday suspended all commercial filming at LAUSD schools pending an examination of the policies, a day after the first part of this story aired.

Citing limited budgets and a need for additional funding, Los Angeles Unified public schools have embraced Hollywood dollars.

To those in the entertainment industry, LAUSD properties offer a premium convenience: beautiful elementary, middle and high school campuses that can be dressed up as any school in America, as they have for films like "Drillbit Taylor" and "Mother's Day".

But after six months fighting for access to public records, reviewing thousands of pages of emails, permits and receipts from LA public schools, NBC4 has learned the millions of production-company dollars made each year by California's largest public school district may come at the cost of education.
Documents we obtained indicate school officials operating without much oversight into the type of content allowed on campus — or the interruptions to teachers and students.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines refused to interview with NBC4 on the topic, and later told investigative reporter Jenna Susko that is because the district's Office of Inspector General is now investigating. The district would not confirm whether any investigation was taking place at this time.

Raunchy jokes laced with obscenities from films such as "Bad Teacher" and television series such as HBO's "Shameless" are common at LA public schools. Records show much of the edgy content found on premium-cable shows such as HBO's "Big Love" and Showtime's "Masters of Sex" is filmed at schools.

And schools also rent to music video production crews, like the one that produced YouTube personality Trisha Paytas' "Hot for Teacher" video, which suggests a teacher having sex with a student in a bathroom stall, and a hit single "Break the Rules" from breakout singer CharliXCX, which glorifies "getting high and getting wrecked."

At Hollywood High School, the cast members of Glee posed for racy pictures, dressed as underage students, in the school's locker room.

The R-rated "Bad Teacher", which starred Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake and Jason Segal, filmed numerous scenes at two LAUSD middle schools, a scene depicting marijuana use on the drug-free campus and Diaz performing a suggestive carwash dance to pay for breast implants — both of those scenes at Burroughs Middle School.

"It's pathetic," said Tim Winter, the president of the Parents Television Council. "We're willing to throw our kids under the bus for the sake of a production shoot."

And with hundreds of film shoots every year at L.A. public schools, internal emails reveal some school officials may not be able to keep track of all of the film crews on campus.

At University High School in West Los Angeles, emails show a teacher discovered a man in his "underwear" with his hands tied behind his back, a "ball and gag" in his mouth. The teacher claimed it was in a classroom in front of students.

That film shoot was never approved by school officials or the school district. NBC4 was unable to determine which production company was involved.

"Do you do just let people walk in off the street?" said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. "Are they going to start letting drug dealers off the street?"

"That strikes us as just being an abject lack of control over the facility," he said.

Schools officials allowed CBS News cameras inside University High School in 2010 to document the benefits of filming, but the principal refused to interview with NBC4.

Maybe it's because NBC4 found some crews have caused major problems while students are in class.

Documents show crews have caused thousands of dollars in damage, were "rude and frequently used profanities," blocked doors to offices, disrupted the bell schedule with an "explosion" for a CBS crime drama series, and even left athletic teams unable to practice.

Teachers complained they are often left with no place to park.

"This is ridiculous," one teacher complained to the LAUSD administration. "I understand we need the money but the kids are suffering and this is totally unfair to the teachers."

NBC4 requested interviews with the principals of Birmingham Community Charter School, Burroughs Middle School, University High School and Marshall High School, but all refused.

When NBC4 contacted LAUSD's board members for comment, all seven refused to interview.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines also declined to talk on camera, so our cameras met him at a back-to-school event put on by LAUSD.

Susko: "Superintendent, I'm Jenna Susko with NBC4. We want to know why you won't talk to us about filming at schools."

Cortines: "The IG is doing an investigation. That's my statement."

Susko: "Into what?"

Cortines: "That is my statement, ma'am."

Cortines later told NBC4, while leaving the building, to "talk to the IG."

But the Inspector General at LAUSD refused to even confirm whether any such investigation was taking place.

"It's very troubling, the fact that people don't want to talk about this," Coupal said. "People in government are very reticent to answer simple questions."

"I think there needs to be more oversight," Coupal said.

And that racy content being filmed at schools?

Cortines' spokeswoman at the district sent NBC4 a statement saying they "ensure that the filming activity is appropriate."

"The content we're talking about is age-inappropriate," said Winter. "Basically looking at the welfare of children as collateral damage to bringing in a few extra bucks."

NBC4 is continuing its investigation into the filming taking place at LAUSD schools with a second part to this investigation Thursday on the NBC4 News at 6.

Full statement from LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines:

The Los Angeles Unified School District is located in what is known as the "Entertainment Capital of the World," and the opportunity to use our campuses as filming locations is a win-win for both the entertainment industry and the District.

Schools provide ready-made sets for production companies, in locations that are close to studios. Filming fees charged by the District directly benefit our schools.

Over the last five years, the District has received nearly $10 million in filming revenue, which has enabled our schools to fund programs and much-needed resources to improve the educational experience of their students. The District has strict policies to ensure money is spent appropriately.

To access the entertainment industry, the District has a contract with the nonprofit FilmL.A., which oversees and coordinates permits and filming activities.

When filming at our schools, production crews must adhere to District policies, as well as state and local laws and regulations. FilmL.A. works with District staff to ensure that the filming activity is appropriate, and determines whether additional safety precautions or personnel are needed. School principals are responsible for notifying parents and staff about planned filming activity.

Our first priority is to educate our students and to provide a safe and conducive learning environment. We are pleased with the partnership that the District has built and sustained with the filming industry, and the respect they have shown to our schools.

Contact Us