Following the release of the documentary Leaving Neverland, in which Wade Robson and James Safechuck detail the sexual abuse they say they suffered throughout their childhoods at the hands of Michael Jackson, the late King of Pop’s legacy has been eroding fast. But in Los Angeles, an elementary school’s auditorium still proudly bears his name.
Nestled between Sunset and Hollywood boulevards, Gardner Street Elementary School was the last public school that Michael Jackson attended before becoming one of the most powerful and influential artists of our time. In 1989, Jackson returned to his old stomping grounds for the dedication of the Michael Jackson Auditorium.
“I am deeply touched and honored that the PTA, principal, faculty members and students have been so kind as to dedicate the auditorium, where I sat as a child, in my honor,” Jackson said in 1989, according to the Los Angeles Times. “We must all never forget that the children are our future and without them humankind will become extinct.”
Today In 1989, Michael Jackson visited his old school, the Gardner Street Elementary School, which named its auditorium in his honour. pic.twitter.com/6sevxjNyv3
— MJJLegion ♕ (@MJJLegion) October 12, 2016
That only lasted a little over a decade. In late 2003, when Jackson was arrested and charged with nine counts associated with child molestation (“seven of child molestation and two of administering an intoxicating agent for the purpose of a committing felony,” according to CNN), the school decided to do away with Jackson’s name, painting over the letters and covering them with a plywood box.
According to the Los Angeles Times, then principal of the school and Los Angeles Unified School District officials had come to the decision after receiving multiple complaints and requests from parents.
Following the King of Pop’s death in 2010, fans rallied for the reinstatement of the Michael Jackson Auditorium, which LAUSD’s then-district superintendent Ramon C. Cortinez subsequently ordered.
In the wake of Leaving Neverland, the school and LAUSD haven’t acted as quickly as they did in 2003. One neighborhood local, who lives across the elementary school and has watched Leaving Neverland, told L.A. radio station 790KABC, “I was expecting to come around the corner the next day and see that the Michael Jackson Auditorium name was taken down. It’s not been taken down yet. I’m surprised.”
In a statement to Los Angeles, LAUSD public information officer Samuel Gilstrap said, “The recent allegations against Michael Jackson detailed in Leaving Neverland are very concerning. No decisions regarding the presence of Jackson’s name on the Gardner St. Elementary auditorium will be made without first receiving input from the Gardner St. community. Our top priority continues to be ensuring the safety and well-being of our school communities.”
UPDATE: This post has been amended with a more recent statement from LAUSD.