Author Topic: Miramonte Elementary School - Warning: Vileness  (Read 2484 times)

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Offline Xelebes

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Re: Miramonte Elementary School - Warning: Vileness
« Reply #15 on: February 12, 2012, 09:14:13 PM »
Miramonte Staff Will Never Return to Scandal-Plagued Campus, Teachers' Union Says

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Miramonte Staff Will Never Return to Scandal-Plagued Campus, Teachers' Union Says
By Dennis Romero Thu., Feb. 9 2012 at 12:37 PM
Categories: Miramonte

Thumbnail image for miramonte front lausd.JPG
LAUSD
?As was sure to happen, the sex-abuse scandal at Miramonte Elementary is turning into a battle between the powerful teacher's union and the bureaucratically stifling L.A. Unified School District.

Who's right and who's wrong shouldn't even matter at this point. Sheriff's investigators believe there might be as many as 25 additional victims of suspect and ex-Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt.

But the union, silent on the matter until Monday, is whining:

United Teachers Los Angeles is angry that Miramonte's entire staff has been removed in reaction to the scandal in which Berndt was charged with 23 counts of lewd acts on children and instructor Martin Springer was charged with three such counts.

Superintendent John Deasy had said that staffers would be allowed to return, essentially, when the dust clears.

But the UTLA today called that and other statements by Deasy "broken promises."

According to a union statement:

    Superintendent John Deasy--without the input of parents--took the unprecedented move this week to remove the entire school's staff. District officials initially indicated that the staff could return, once the investigation was completed. Now LAUSD says that Miramonte staff will NOT be allowed to return, no matter the outcome of the investigation.

UTLA contends that Miramonte's teachers "will never be allowed back." Union president Warren Fletcher:

    It's clear that LAUSD does not have a plan. They are making it up as they go along, and the kids are paying the price. LAUSD is making a tragic situation even worse and traumatizing the entire school unnecessarily. Parents and students want their teachers back.

But the district says that the plan all along was to keep the Miramonte staff off campus through the end of the current school year, replacing it with teachers on placement and rehiring lists.

LAUSD spokesman Tom Waldman told the Weekly:

    The plan is that through the school year '11-'12 we will have the current arrangement in place and we'll see after that. UTLA says the replacement is permanent. The district has never said that.

Some parents were angered over the arrangement, bummed that teachers who had worked with their children for years vanished as the campus reopened today after two-day closure in response to the scandal.

We think removing the staff was the least the LAUSD could do: We want to know how supervisors and fellow teachers didn't know any of this was allegedly going on under their noses.

While there are surely innocents among the Miramonte staff, there's more guilt to go around: It takes a village to support the kind allegations being made at the Florence-Firestone school.

So far, it's been all talk, no real action, on both sides of this. We're not distracted by the debate, however. We have our eyes on the prize. Heads need to roll.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by Guest »

Offline Xelebes

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Re: Miramonte Elementary School - Warning: Vileness
« Reply #16 on: February 12, 2012, 09:17:20 PM »
Testing to see if this post brings us to the next page.  The next article coming up is going to provide why I think this article is especially noteworthy for this forum and website and to possibly allow us to explore how such a lack of protection exists for children.
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Offline Xelebes

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Re: Miramonte Elementary School - Warning: Vileness
« Reply #17 on: February 12, 2012, 09:18:09 PM »
Another test.  Got to wait a few minutes between posts.  Reasonable.
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Offline Xelebes

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Re: Miramonte Elementary School - Warning: Vileness
« Reply #18 on: February 12, 2012, 09:20:55 PM »
All right, the big Kahuna.  Or the raison d'etre of this whole thread.  I invite you to read the first page to know what the details are before you head deep into the necessary meta-analysis of the situation.

Miramonte Parents Scared L.A. Sheriff Will Deport Them -- Turning Sex-Scandal Probe Into Immigration Debate

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Miramonte Parents Scared L.A. Sheriff Will Deport Them -- Turning Sex-Scandal Probe Into Immigration Debate
By Simone Wilson Thu., Feb. 9 2012 at 5:45 PM
Categories: Immigration, Miramonte

ice secure comm.jpeg
As if they don't have enough to worry about.
?No matter the hot L.A. news item, it always seems to turn into an immigration debate.

And that should come as no surprise: Rough estimates have placed close to 1 million illegal immigrants in Los Angeles County. And whenever law enforcement or press come sniffing, the paperless are at risk of being outed.

This fear has reportedly played a large factor in the sheriff's probe of Miramonte Elementary in unincorporated South L.A.:

Sheriff's investigators have found around 600 photos, so far, of ex-teacher Mark Berndt allegedly feeding his bound-and-gagged students spoonfuls of his own semen -- part of a sick "sex game" that went on for years.

Dozens of ex-teacher Mark Berndt's potential victims could still be out there, as well as victims of two other pervy teachers at Miramonte. (Yes, it's as messed up as it sounds.)

But some parents tell the Associated Press that "they aren't talking to authorities because they are afraid that the Sheriff's Department, which is in charge of the investigation, will refer them to immigration through the Secure Communities program."

berdnt mickey mouse kpcc.JPG
KPCC
If anything's worth getting deported over, it's this.
?Right on cue, immigrants-rights groups and state politicians are taking the opportunity to decry Secure Communities -- the federal program that allows local cops to call up ICE if they suspect they've got an illegal alien on their hands -- anew.

All the way from NorCal, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano is pitching his in-limbo AB 1081 as a "bright line between police and Immigration" that "would address [the] fear of Miramonte parents."

The bill, nicknamed the Trust Act, would allow local governments to opt out of Secure Communities.

Of course, eliminating this one program won't magically fix America's broken immigration system. But it would be a start.

L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca, in particular, has remained a staunch supporter of Secure Communities in the face of heaps of evidence proving it doesn't serve its intended purpose, and generally does more harm than good. (Thus earning him the "next Sheriff Joe" badge, in our book.)

He's being battled in court by rights groups like the Coalition for Humane Immigrants Rights of Los Angeles, who want Baca to release stats on undocumented Angelenos who've been deported through the program.

Until he does, it's hard to say how much harm it's really done. But awful anecdotes suggest that Miramonte parents are right to be worried.

According to CHIRLA, attorneys for the Miramonte parents suing the district over Berdnt's abuse have demanded "written assurances by Sheriff Baca that undocumented victims will not be deported through Secure Communities program."

He knows full well not to enter another PR disaster with the department in such an embattled state, and has promised not to deport any parents demanding justice for their molested kids. Obviously.

But it sure makes a good angle for the immigrants-rights folks. See also: The Compton parents blasted with (empty) threats of deportation after demanding a better education for their kids.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by Guest »

Offline Xelebes

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Re: Miramonte Elementary School - Warning: Vileness
« Reply #19 on: February 12, 2012, 09:22:44 PM »
Miramonte's Berndt Got $40,000 From L.A. School Board to Quietly Walk Away Despite Alleged Sex-Abuse Atrocities

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Miramonte's Berndt Got $40,000 From L.A. School Board to Quietly Walk Away Despite Alleged Sex-Abuse Atrocities
By Dennis Romero Thu., Feb. 9 2012 at 5:57 PM
Categories: Miramonte

berdnt mickey mouse kpcc.JPG
KPCC
A photo of Berndt released by attorneys suing the district.
?Corrected after the jump; headline has been changed.

If it weren't for his eventual arrest, we might have never found out about the atrocities alleged to have happened in Mark Berndt's Miramonte Elementary School class.

That's because the L.A. Unified School District's elected board quietly paid Berndt to go away, according to an astonishing report by KPCC's (89.3 FM) Tami Abdollah today.

Taxpayer money was given to Berndt:


He was paid a $40,000 settlement, given months of back pay worth $24,000, was allowed to retire instead of being fired, and even had his legal fees, in the sum of $16,000, covered.

Can you say outrage?

l.a. school board.JPG
Winning: Your L.A. school board.
?

This even though the district alleged back in January of 2011 that Berndt, according to KPCC's echoing of documents it received ...

    ... caused students to be blindfolded, allowed himself to be blindfolded; caused students to have tape placed over their mouths, allowed himself to have tape placed over his mouth; caused several students to be fed with a spoon containing an "unknown cloudy-colored liquid substance"; caused several students to eat cookies with that same substance on them; touched several students by placing arm around them.

Berndt hired an attorney and fought the charges after his dismissal in January, leading to a June 7 closed-door decision by the board to let him walk away quietly with more than $3,800 a month in pension pay -- which cannot be taken away from him even if he's convicted -- and the other cash listed above, according to KPCC.

Berndt is charged with 23 counts of lewd acts on a child, acts that allegedly included spoon-feeding semen to his students.

When he was arrested last week, the world finally found out about Miramonte.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by Guest »

Offline Xelebes

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Re: Miramonte Elementary School - Warning: Vileness
« Reply #20 on: February 12, 2012, 09:24:19 PM »
Another teacher, another school, same school district.

Paul Chapel, Ex-Teacher at Telfair Elementary, Is Latest Alleged Molester That LAUSD Kept Under Wraps

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Paul Chapel, Ex-Teacher at Telfair Elementary, Is Latest Alleged Molester That LAUSD Kept Under Wraps
By Simone Wilson Fri., Feb. 10 2012 at 10:00 AM
Categories: Miramonte, Sex Crimes

MiramonteSchoolProtest20120207.jpg
Getty Images
The Miramonte effect: molester-phobia is spreading across L.A.
?Seriously, what is with all these old men (allegedly) touching kids at L.A.'s low-income schools?

The October 8 arrest of a former third-grade teacher at Telfair Elementary -- Paul William Chapel, 50 -- is the latest big reveal in the media hunt for more LAUSD child molesters, after Miramonte Elementary was found to be a cesspool for pervy adults.

The LA Daily News reports that Chapel...

... was charged with 16 counts of "continuous sexual abuse against three girls and one boy, all under age 14, between Sept. 13, 2010, and April 15, 2011." Those include "nine counts of committing a lewd act upon a child" and three counts of "committing a forcible lewd act" -- in which police say Chapel used "force, violence, duress, menace and threat of great bodily harm."

Telfair Elementary is located at the edge of the Valley, in minority-heavy Paicoma.


View Larger Map

Unlike with Miramonte's infamous Mark Berndt, the dirty details of Chapel's alleged sex abuse haven't been revealed. But with charges this serious, and a bail set at $2.2 million, it sounds like he may turn out to have been a serial sex monster.

Yet in the four-and-a-haf months since Chapel was fired and jailed, Los Angeles Unified School District officials never once notified parents that their children may have been exposed to a pedophile.

They express their shock to the Daily News:

    Outside of Telfair, parents expressed frustration that they hadn't been told that a teacher had been arrested on sex-abuse charges. Their comments echoed those of parents at Miramonte Elementary School in South L.A., where authorities kept their investigation of a teacher secret for more than a year.

    "We were never informed of this. It's a big shock," said Sylvia Hernandez, who has children in third grade and preschool. "We would like to be informed. We'd like to know what's going on with our children in school. That's the least we can expect. We send them to school and you expect for them to be taken care of here."

As far as we know, LAUSD isn't required by state law to notify parents when something like this happens on campus -- and teachers unions are known to discourage any official accusations against teachers until the verdict is in. (In an investigation by the Dallas Morning News of similar policy in Texas, a union rep said, "It's hard to know how to come down on it. You have to find that line to protect kids and not get into a witch hunt mode against teachers.")

But in Berndt's case, for example, additional victims who may have been fed semen by their teacher didn't know to get an STD test. During the year-long investigation after Berndt was fired, these kids were under the impression that they had participated in a harmless "tasting game."

When the media breaks a story like Chapel's -- instead of LAUSD or the LAPD -- it gives residents the impression that these creeps are everywhere.

Superintendent John Deasy chose to relocate Miramonte's entire teaching staff yesterday, to give the impression of a full-house cleaning. But what's different now than a year ago, when district heads first laid eyes on Berndt's horrid photographs? And if Miramonte teachers are all given this "contaminated" label, how will they be received at other schools? Are those schools so clean themselves? We could have a hundred Miramontes in this district, for all we know.

To dispel the fear, parents must be notified immediately when a teacher is arrested for child abuse. We thought the media was behind this witch hunt -- but it's really LAUSD, with all its union-catering secrecy. For more, see: "Miramonte's Berndt Got $80,000 From L.A. School Board to Quietly Walk Away Despite Alleged Sex-Abuse Atrocities."

Update: Deasy tells CBS LA that there is something "fundamentally wrong" with the California laws that make it near impossible for the district to fire teachers. He also says LAUSD is considering a psychiatric evaluation during the hiring process.
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Offline Ursus

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Re: Mark Brendt
« Reply #21 on: February 12, 2012, 10:18:24 PM »
What an incredibly SICK human being this Mark Brendt is.

That he managed to get away with it for soooo long... makes ya wonder...
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Offline Xelebes

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Re: Mark Brendt
« Reply #22 on: February 12, 2012, 10:49:09 PM »
Quote from: "Ursus"
What an incredibly SICK human being this Mark Brendt is.

That he managed to get away with it for soooo long... makes ya wonder...

You don't have to wonder, it's pretty much given.  Unless you are thinking of something else.
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Offline Xelebes

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Re: Miramonte Elementary School - Warning: Vileness
« Reply #23 on: February 12, 2012, 10:57:12 PM »
Now for the articles from the LA Times.

Commit a crime, collect a pension

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Commit a crime, collect a pension
Public employees including teachers receive retirement benefits even if they are felons.

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By George Skelton Capitol Journal

February 13, 2012

From Sacramento

Here's another outrage about the child abuse scandal at Miramonte Elementary School: If the teacher accused of spoon-feeding his semen to blindfolded students is convicted and sent to prison, he'll still receive a public pension.

Mark Berndt, charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct against children, is due nearly $4,000 a month. No matter the jury verdict. It's the law.

    George Skelton
    George Skelton
    Bio | E-mail | Recent columns

Same deal for a fellow Miramonte teacher, Martin Springer, who was charged last week with three counts of lewd conduct alleging that he fondled a girl in his class.

In fact, any state or local government employee in California who commits a felony theft, embezzlement, extortion, bribery in the course of performing a public duty is still entitled to a pension.

"Even if he's in prison," says Brad Pacheco, spokesman for the California Public Employees' Retirement System.

"Teachers retain their pension benefits regardless of the reason for their separation from employment," says Krista Noonan, communications director for the California State Teachers' Retirement System. "It's like a property right. It cannot be taken away or reduced."

There are a couple of relatively minor exceptions.

If some government mucky-muck is found to have illegally padded his pay and piled up an improper pension, it can be reduced.

For example, CalPERS slashed the pension of former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo to $50,000. He had expected to haul in $650,000 a year from CalPERS. Rizzo is accused of looting Bell by, among other ways, drawing a huge salary never approved by the City Council.

Rizzo, his assistant and six council members face trial on various charges of corruption.

If convicted, Rizzo shouldn't even be paid $50,000, in my view. But that gets into a big legal argument about constitutional protections.

Another minor exception to the taxpayers' commit-a-crime, draw-a-pension generosity is for elected officials. If they're caught at corruption, they can lose pension rights. But it's a weak law. The local governing body a board of supervisors, for example can reinstate the convicted politician's benefits.

Gov. Jerry Brown is trying to change all this.

Paying pensions to criminals "brings into disrespect and disrepute the whole civil service system," the governor told me.

The Bell scandal got him riled up, aides say.

One piece of Brown's proposed 12-point pension reform would strip retirement benefits from any public employee who committed a felony in the course of public duty.

The employee wouldn't be denied all pension pay just the amount "earned" after he began the criminal activity. He would still be entitled to what he was previously vested in while clean.

It's unclear whether Brown's proposal would affect the alleged Miramonte molesters or pertain only to future crimes. Probably the latter. Maybe it also would affect just future employees. The governor's advisors expect that these questions would be settled in a court fight.

State and local government employees enjoy special protections under the "contracts clause" of the U.S. Constitution. But what about the contract signed by a teacher with a school district? Doesn't it forbid moral turpitude? If not, it should. And contract violations involving felonious moral turpitude should void pensions.

If nothing else, it should be on the table during collective bargaining. I can't believe teachers' unions would want to protect child molesters.

Brown's goal is to deny as much pension pay as possible to lawbreakers.

    George Skelton
    George Skelton
    Bio | E-mail | Recent columns

A Republican assemblyman, Cameron Smyth of Santa Clarita, would go one step further. He'd amend a pension forfeiture into the state Constitution. Then only the electorate at the ballot box could change the law.

Brown's proposal would merely be a statute, which could be altered by the Legislature on a majority vote.

"I want to make sure there's teeth in this," Smyth says. "I've been in the Legislature only five years, but that's long enough to have seen deals made in one year be undone in a future year.

"This is an era of term limits when legislators are not here for long and they don't have institutional memories. It's easy to forget the importance of some bills."

The importance of this legislation: "Teachers who are predators and basically use their positions to commit heinous acts on kids shouldn't be rewarded with pensions. In fact, taxpayers are hit twice for the pensions and the cost of incarceration."

Smyth quickly adds: "In no way is this an anti-teacher proposal. My parents were teachers. My wife is a teacher. Her sister is a teacher. I want to protect our kids and the taxpayers."

Most probably, Smyth will get to vote only for Brown's proposal. His own will never reach the Assembly floor because it's a Republican measure in a Democratic-controlled Legislature. Moreover, his constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds legislative vote to advance to the ballot. That's very unlikely.

Brown's proposal should be a no-brainer for the Legislature. But there are rumblings of concern about the poor innocent spouse who might be relying on a full pension.

The public servant, however, should have thought about that before going bad. The spouse is his responsibility, not the taxpayers'. Anyway, there's SSI/SSP, the tattered federal-state safety net. Join the ranks of the unlucky.

"It's unfortunate," says Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). "Innocent people get hurt. On the other hand, this falls into the category of excess."

Steinberg says of Brown's anti-felon proposal: "I have no problem with it."

Good. Get it passed. Sooner the better before many more crimes are committed on the public dime by creeps as they fatten their pensions.
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Offline Xelebes

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Re: Miramonte Elementary School - Warning: Vileness
« Reply #24 on: February 12, 2012, 11:01:16 PM »
L.A. Unified faces hefty costs from Miramonte School scandal

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L.A. Unified faces hefty costs from Miramonte School scandal
With two Miramonte teachers accused of lewd acts on students, the district faces potential legal liability that could run into the millions of dollars. In addition, the district is paying the old staff and a replacement staff.

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Miramonte teachers

Replacement teachers head toward their new classooms at Miramonte Elementary School. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times / February 8, 2012)

    Also
    <b>Photos:</b> Parent uproar over sex-abuse claims Photos: Parent uproar over sex-abuse claims
    Arrests shatter recent signs of Miramonte school's progress Arrests shatter recent signs of Miramonte school's progress
    Miramonte teacher was paid $40,000 to drop dismissal challenge Miramonte teacher was paid $40,000 to drop dismissal challenge
    Miramonte aide's love letters to pupil investigated Miramonte aide's love letters to pupil investigated
    Will L.A. Unified's response to abuse allegations pass muster? Will L.A. Unified's response to abuse allegations pass muster?
    Staff of Miramonte replaced pending sex abuse inquiry Staff of Miramonte replaced pending sex abuse inquiry
    See more stories

By Howard Blume, Sam Allen and Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times

February 9, 2012
As the scandal over two Miramonte Elementary School teachers accused of committing lewd acts on children grows, it's becoming clear the Los Angeles Unified School District faces a heavy financial cost.

Miramonte will reopen Thursday with an all-new slate of teachers and administrators as well as custodians and cafeteria workers. But L.A. Unified will continue to pay the old staff even as they wait out the investigations at a high school under construction a few miles away.

It remains unclear how long this arrangement will last; the investigations are expected to take months to complete. The new hiring alone will run $5.7 million for the remainder of the school year, said district spokesman Thomas Waldman.

But those costs are likely to pale when compared to potential legal liability that experts said could run into the millions of dollars.

At least two dozen students at Miramonte Elementary have retained attorneys so far. The children allege they were victimized by teacher Mark Berndt, who was charged last week with 23 counts of lewd conduct.

Prosecutors allege that Berndt spoon-fed his semen to blindfolded students as part of what he called a "tasting game." Authorities last week announced that they had collected hundreds of disturbing photos Berndt had developed at a CVS pharmacy. In some, children are shown with a milky substance around their mouths or cockroaches crawling on their faces.

On Wednesday, detectives announced that they had discovered 200 more photos from the pharmacy late last week. Los Angeles Sheriff's Department Sgt. Dan Scott said the new photos are similar to the original ones and were found after the drugstore performed a computer search.

Scott said there are unidentified children in those photos, raising the specter of additional victims and more legal claims against the school system.

School district officials said they were aware that L.A. Unified, and possibly its insurers, are confronting potentially tens of millions of dollars in costs at a time of ongoing budget strains that have led to thousands of layoffs. But L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy said that at this point, those costs are not as important as rebuilding parent trust.

"I don't often say this, but that is the least thing I am worried about," Deasy said when asked about the accumulating expenses. "The No. 1 issue is: How do we support students?"

The district has estimated there to be about 150 teachers and administrators at Miramonte, which is in unincorporated Florence-Firestone south of downtown Los Angeles.

District documents set the average Miramonte teacher's salary at $69,206. Health benefits cost thousands more per person. The average elementary school principal's salary is $107,331. Also replaced were plant workers, cafeteria help and clerical staff. In addition, officials said, they have hired 45 counselors enough to serve every Miramonte classroom.

During the transition, Deasy closed Miramonte for two days. Every day of attendance is worth about $40 per student, according to state figures. Unless the lost schooling is made up or excused by the state, L.A. Unified would lose more than $100,000. The day before the school closed, attendance dipped from a typical 98% to 72%, according to updated district figures. That difference alone calculates to about $15,000.

Authorities said the Berndt case could involve more than 100 children over five years.

Legal experts said it is difficult to estimate the district's legal exposure, but they said one key fact is whether the plaintiffs can show the district knew of past problems with Berndt.

"If there have been complaints and a failure to investigate, that clearly strengthens their case," said Tom Lyon, a professor of law and psychology at USC who specializes in child-abuse prosecutions.

The fact that the alleged acts occurred inside the classroom is likely to challenge the district's defense, he said.

When Berndt, 61, was arrested, school district officials said they had no record of previous misconduct or complaints . But past episodes have since emerged.

One former student told The Times that during the 1990-91 school year that a counselor told her and two other girls to stop inventing stories after a complaint that Berndt appeared to be masturbating behind his desk. In 1994, detectives investigated a claim that Berndt had tried to touch a girl's genitals, though prosecutors deemed the evidence too weak to file charges.

And one father said he complained in 2008 to the Miramonte principal after his daughter brought home photographs that Berndt had taken of her. In one image, she was eating a cookie coated with what investigators now suspect is Berndt's semen.

"To prove negligent hiring, retention or supervision, there has to be some reason to think that this person was creating a problem, or having an issue" in the past, said John Nockleby, a professor at Loyola Law School.

    Also
    <b>Photos:</b> Parent uproar over sex-abuse claims Photos: Parent uproar over sex-abuse claims
    Arrests shatter recent signs of Miramonte school's progress Arrests shatter recent signs of Miramonte school's progress
    Miramonte teacher was paid $40,000 to drop dismissal challenge Miramonte teacher was paid $40,000 to drop dismissal challenge
    Miramonte aide's love letters to pupil investigated Miramonte aide's love letters to pupil investigated
    Will L.A. Unified's response to abuse allegations pass muster? Will L.A. Unified's response to abuse allegations pass muster?
    Staff of Miramonte replaced pending sex abuse inquiry Staff of Miramonte replaced pending sex abuse inquiry
    See more stories

But if the criminal cases collapse, the picture could change considerably, said Dmitry Gorin, a former sex-crimes prosecutor.

Although detectives say they retrieved a spoon with Berndt's semen on it, that does not mean they can prove he used that spoon in connection with the students, Gorin said.

Moreover, the Berndt case doesn't involve sexual assault. In some photos, the children are smiling, as if they are playing a game.

"This isn't an easy case despite all the media attention," Gorin said.

Juries have awarded hefty civil settlements to students who were victims of abuse, including a $10.8-million judgment in La Verne and a $3.75-million judgment in Orange County.

In 2008, a civil jury awarded nearly $1.6 million to three girls molested by a former school aide who worked at Miramonte.

For now, school officials said they are not focused on potential settlements.

"Cost has not been raised and I don't know when it will be raised," said board member Steve Zimmer. "The beginning, middle and end of the discussion is about the safety of children at the school. I don't want the superintendent to pause for even a nanosecond because of funding in his efforts to secure and stabilize that campus."

On Wednesday, Miramonte teachers met with their replacements and parents continued to protest the wholesale change in staff. School officials stressed that the staff being removed are not suspected of wrongdoing. In fact, sheriff's detectives said Wednesday that they have no plans to make further arrests at this time.
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Offline Xelebes

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Re: Miramonte Elementary School - Warning: Vileness
« Reply #25 on: February 12, 2012, 11:06:51 PM »
Arrests shatter recent signs of Miramonte school's progress

Quote
Arrests shatter recent signs of Miramonte school's progress
The school was doing better on test scores, student activities and parental involvement. Charges against two teachers suddenly threaten those gains.

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Miramonte Elementary School

A teacher newly assigned to Miramonte Elementary leads her students out to recess. Many fear that recent gains at the school will be lost in the chaos surrounding abuse allegations. (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles Times / February 9, 2012)

    Also
    <b>Photos:</b> Parent uproar over sex-abuse claims Photos: Parent uproar over sex-abuse claims
    Miramonte teacher was paid $40,000 to drop dismissal challenge Miramonte teacher was paid $40,000 to drop dismissal challenge
    L.A. Unified faces hefty costs from Miramonte School scandal L.A. Unified faces hefty costs from Miramonte School scandal
    Miramonte aide's love letters to pupil investigated Miramonte aide's love letters to pupil investigated
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By Teresa Watanabe and Stephen Ceasar, Los Angeles Times

February 12, 2012
Until the photos surfaced, it didn't appear that anything was seriously amiss at Miramonte Elementary School.

The school was on the upswing. Test scores were rising. The campus south of downtown Los Angeles was bright with new paint, murals and $6 million in other improvements. A new principal brought in parent education workshops, student leadership programs and other activities. Even the neighborhood, notorious for gang violence and drugs, had calmed down.

Then came the bombshell: photos showing Miramonte schoolchildren blindfolded and gagged, pictured with spoons containing a milky substance that authorities allege was the semen of Mark Berndt, 61, a third-grade teacher who has been charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct with children. Another teacher, Martin Springer, was arrested on suspicion of three counts of lewd conduct.

The school's gains now seem endangered by the turmoil, and families, staff and neighbors are wrestling with the haunting question of how this could have happened.

Perhaps there wouldn't be signs at any school. A suspect intent on using children in these ways might be able to slide by largely unnoticed, experts say.

But Miramonte faces particularly challenging conditions. It is the second-largest elementary school in California and one of the last remaining on a year-round calendar, with teachers and nearly 1,500 students on different schedules.

Families in the area rank among the poorest in L.A County. Two-thirds of adults have no high school diploma and about a third are single parents, twice the rate in the county overall. Nearly half the residents are immigrants, most from Latin American countries, and half the students are English learners.

"Parents who are unfamiliar with the system or uncomfortable because they don't speak the language or work two or three jobs may not be as attentive to their children's education," said Yolie Flores, a Los Angeles school board member at the time the photos surfaced last year; she voted then to fire Berndt.

California Federation of Teachers president Joshua Pechthalt said vigilance can be harder in large schools like Miramonte. "When you create schools that are so large, students can get lost academically and emotionally, and teachers can get lost," he said.

Parents, current and former students, residents and others say there are no easy answers.

Dora Gonzalez, for instance, is a Honduran immigrant whose fifth-grade daughter Nancy attends Miramonte.

She is an involved parent who studies English daily, is working toward her high school diploma, participates in most family education workshops and is quick to meet with teachers over academic problems. She quizzed her daughter regularly when she had a male teacher to make sure he made no inappropriate advances.

Yolanda Rivera, another immigrant mother, warned her two children when they enrolled in Miramonte to tell her if any teacher touched them with more than a pat on their back, a hug or kiss on the cheek.

The mothers never saw or heard anything that raised their suspicions. "There were no signs that anything was wrong at the school," Gonzalez said.

As far as anyone knows at this point, one parent showed a former principal a photo of his child eating a cookie, and two girls told a counselor that Berndt often moved his hands under his desk near his lap.

School officials did not find the complaints serious enough to report to law enforcement. Another girl reported that Berndt fondled her in 1993, but prosecutors dropped the case for insufficient evidence.

Berndt was a popular teacher, students said. Often clad in casual Hawaiian shirts and shorts, he was known to give out Popsicles and lollipops every week. He played dodge ball and kickball with the kids. He was light on homework and took the students on field trips, joked around and gave children special nicknames: "Crystal pistol" for Crystal Ramirez, 21, a former Berndt student, for example.

"Everyone wanted him for their teacher because he was cool and fun," said Aileen Godinez, a seventh-grader and former Miramonte student.

Many children loved Berndt's collection of insects roaches, butterflies, ladybugs, dragonflies kept in containers on a classroom table. Ramirez recalled that Berndt's favorite subject was science, especially bugs. He read them books about insects and let the students play with them.

She said she never heard of, or participated in, any "tasting games," the name Berndt is said to have used in his alleged scheme to feed his semen to students in spoons. Some parents also suspect he smeared his semen on cookies he gave to the children.

Ramirez said she found a few unusual things about Berndt: the way he smeared Vaseline on his lips, his habit of putting his hand inside the waistband of his pants. He used to ask her to stay after school to work on reading, she said, but she never did.

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Another former student, 21-year-old Dianna Amezcua, said Berndt would sit on the steps near the playground with his legs wide open, making it possible to see inside his shorts. When she would pick up her brother at Miramonte after moving on to middle school, she said, Berndt would invite her into his classroom to chat, offering ice cream or Popsicles. She accepted the treats but wouldn't go alone.

"Looking back, it was weird," she said. "But I was young. I wasn't going to notice things like that."

Lawyers for the dozens of plaintiffs now filing claims against the school district for alleged abuse say that the children largely didn't see anything wrong with the games played in Berndt's classroom and that they were happy to have the teacher's attention. Berndt, who is being held in County Jail, has not commented on the case, nor has his attorney.

One school staff member also said the faculty was always busy. The employee, who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals by the L.A. Unified School District, said many teachers were constantly pressed to keep test scores up. Teachers were cordial and interacted during breaks but were not particularly social with one another beyond that, the staff member said.

"None of us had a clue to what was going on," the staff member said. "Each one of us goes, does their job and goes home."

The former principal, Richard Lopez, who worked at the school from 2000 to 2009, declined an interview request because he said he was cooperating with L.A. Unified's investigation of Berndt.

Several parents and students described Lopez as disengaged, saying they rarely saw him visit classrooms or attend assemblies. Some Spanish speakers said it was difficult to communicate with him, and parents said they do not recall regular meetings with him.

When Martin Sandoval became the principal in 2009, several Miramonte families said, he began building a more cohesive school environment. Fluent in Spanish, Sandoval reached out to parents, offering them workshops on how to help their children with reading and math.

He started a student council and school dances, mentored struggling students and promoted a guitar club started by a teacher, Jose Vergara, that drew a surprise visit to campus last spring by hip-hop artist Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas.

"He was always engaging students and got parents more involved," Oscar Proa, a 19-year-old former Miramonte student, said of Sandoval. "My mom hardly participated in any school things before, but now she's more active and feels more school pride."

The school was rocked in 2010 after the suicide of a popular teacher, and some union members said Sandoval was putting more pressure on teachers to raise test scores. But things were starting to get back on track before Berndt's arrest Jan. 30.

After L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy decided to replace the entire Miramonte staff last week, several parents and students worried about how they would deal with the new turmoil.

Last week, many students went to Miramonte hoping to say goodbye to their teachers and give them notes of thanks.

Student Nancy Gonzalez waited for Chanelle Thomas, her fifth-grade teacher who she said would stay after school to help struggling students and relentlessly hunt down their families for conferences about them.

Cristal Estrada, 14, went back to see Danilo Escalante, a teacher she said taught her not only reading and math but also about how to fight for your beliefs and work hard for success.

Esteban Rodriguez, 6, said his teacher, Petra Suvia, gave out presents of pencils and erasers, stickers and sharpeners, and he wanted her to return.

Proa frets that his sister, who tested proficient in reading and math last year for the first time, will backslide because of turmoil.

"The school had been improving so much, but now this happens and it's all destroyed," he said.

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Times staff writers Howard Blume and Angel Jennings and data analyst Sandra Poindexter contributed to this report.
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