Police: Teacher behind CdM 'Rent' production is under investigation

A Corona del Mar High School drama teacher who ignored anti-gay protesters and staged a 2009 production of "Rent" is under investigation following an altercation with a student, officials said Tuesday.

Ronald Knight Martin, 57, is on paid leave, pending a battery investigation, Newport-Mesa Unified School District spokeswoman Laura Boss confirmed in an email.

Investigators are interviewing witnesses about an incident of non-sexual battery between a teacher and student that took place on an unspecified date earlier this year, Newport Beach Police Department spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella said.

Manzella, who cited the confidentiality of a minor, declined to say whether the teacher or the student allegedly committed battery. It was not clear whether the altercation took place on campus, and no one has been arrested, she added.

The district is "cooperating fully" with the police, Boss said.

"NMUSD employees are entitled to a right of privacy and due process under state personnel laws," Boss said in an email. "The district is committed to observing these rights for all employees."

Reached by phone, school board President Dana Black said, "We don't want to jeopardize the investigation, any side of it."

Martin could not be reached for comment. He and his wife live in Costa Mesa on the city limits with Newport Beach, according to public records, but no one answered a knock on their door Tuesday afternoon.

Martin is best known at CdM and beyond for his involvement in a controversial production of the rock opera "Rent." A controversy over the production made national headlines, winning vocal support from gay- and free-speech advocates.

Some members of the community had deemed the play's adult themes, including prostitution and homosexuality, inappropriate for CdM's teenage performers, but supporters took those sentiments as a homophobic assault on free speech. The ACLU eventually sued the school district and settled out of court when administrators pledged to promote tolerance on campus.

Martin told the Los Angeles Times in 2009 that he initially chose the production after viewing a Facebook video featuring CdM students making anti-gay slurs and overhearing homophobic remarks on campus.

His goal in staging the popular play, he said, was to promote acceptance.

Fal Asrani, the principal at the time, denied allegations made by Martin that she bowed to pressure and pulled the plug on the production of "Rent," saying she only wanted to review the script beforehand. She later left the high school for a job in Northern California.

"Rent" was delayed by Martin and replaced with another musical, "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

But the original show did go on later that year. A toned-down version, "Rent: School Edition," was staged in April 2009. Three protesters from the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., gathered outside, as did some 200 gay-rights supporters.

The controversy continued beyond that night. Martin was placed on administrative leave in October 2009 for reasons not made public by the school district. Martin called the move retaliation for the dustup over "Rent" and later returned to work.

Los Angeles Times archives were used to compile this report.


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