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Principal At East L.A. Performing Arts Magnet Place On Leave, Accused of Creating “Hostile” Environment

John Edwards Estoesta, who was principal for less than a year at ELAPA, was accused of dismissing racist, homophobic, and transphobic remarks made by students as well as making sexist remarks and inappropriate gestures towards female students.

12:35 PM PDT on May 22, 2023

Photo via: ELAPA Magnet at Esteban Torres High School staff member.

After months of protests conducted by students, teachers, and parents demanding the removal of their principal, John Edwards Estoesta, their pleas were finally heard.

The principal at East L.A. Performing Arts (ELAPA) Magnet at Esteban Torres High School has been placed on leave.

Estoesta, who was principal for less than a year at ELAPA, was accused of dismissing racist, homophobic, and transphobic remarks made by students, as well as making sexist remarks and inappropriate gestures towards female students.

Senior students, like Jade, who would prefer to go by her first name only, said all the problems at her school began when Estoesta became principal.

“For my first three years, we had a different principal and we never had problems like this,” said Jade over the phone. “When Estoesta joined, that's when everything started crumbling down and the school became a really unsafe environment for a lot of students.”

Some of the more detailed accusations began two months into the beginning of the school year and involved an incident in which the principal allegedly took down shared mirrors outside the male and female restrooms.

According to Jade, a group of students went to Estoesta's office and asked why the mirrors were removed and he allegedly responded, “to prevent drug use and rape.”

When a student asked him to further explain what he meant, he allegedly said that the girls “checking themselves out” in the mirrors could be taken by the boys as sexual advances and could lead to a rape or an assault.

“We had a small meeting with the principal and students after this and I heard about the mirror incident, and when I heard his response to them I just found it to be very sexist and inappropriate,” said Jade’s mother over the phone. “I couldn't believe it. I said to him ‘You said what?’”

The tense environment at school had escalated so much that some teachers were already threatening not to return next year unless the issues with the principal were resolved.

“He has engaged in racist conduct, violated the rights of students, persecuted teachers, and created an intolerable environment,” stated a teacher at ELAPA to L.A. TACO via email. “Teachers are updating resumes and looking for openings at other schools.”

For seniors like Jade, the thought of teachers leaving, especially those who she's been able to connect with in her time at ELAPA, is tragic.

“It’s a very small school and because of that the teachers and the students have developed close relationships, our teachers have become outlets for mental health and emotional health for us,” said Jade. “So it's heartbreaking to think that this principal has made them so uncomfortable that they'd rather leave than work under him again.”

In an effort to continue to address their concerns with the new principal, students received support from Centro CSO Education Committee and created a petition demanding the permanent removal of Estoesta.

Before that, students had also conducted a survey asking other students the question: “Do you have confidence in our current principal?” where 91.3% of students voted no.

Students and staff also wrote letters to the Los Angeles Unified Superintendent, Alberto M. Carvalho, in hopes of getting his attention on the matter. 

Photo via: ELAPA Magnet at Esteban Torres High School staff member.

In late April, a Los Angeles Unified spokesperson told L.A. TACO:

“ ...Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho visited the Esteban Torres High School campus where he met with students, teachers, and administrators to learn more about the issues that are most meaningful to the entire school community…. Subsequently, an investigation is in progress.”

At the time, Jade and other students said, “We are willing to continue protesting until he is gone.”

A week after the superintendent's visit to the school, it was reported that the principal was placed on leave pending an investigation. As of last Thursday, a Los Angeles Unified spokesperson confirmed with L.A. TACO that a new principal was temporarily replacing Estoesta.

That same morning students, parents, and staff received an email in which they introduced Tony Cortez as the new interim principal at ELAPA Magnet. Cortez will be in this role through late June as the school continues to look for a permanent replacement for the 2023-2024 academic year. 

“Los Angeles Unified’s leadership continues to dialogue with the Torres East Los Angeles Performing Arts Magnet community and will keep the school community engaged throughout the selection of the new principal,” said a spokesperson for Los Angeles Unified.

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