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Miramonte: Lawyers say Picasso print distressed students; propose reform plan (poll)

Picasso's 1932 painting, which is now hanging in New York's Museum of Modern Art. Lawyers point to a print of this painting that hung in a Miramonte classroom.
Picasso's 1932 painting, which is now hanging in New York's Museum of Modern Art. Lawyers point to a print of this painting that hung in a Miramonte classroom. MOMA

Lawyers for 24 children who claim sexual abuse at Miramonte Elementary School in South Los Angeles said a Picasso print hanging in a classroom was "distressing" to students and suggested an 11-point plan to protect children from future abuse. 

Attorney Luis Carrillo suggested that Los Angeles Unified School District and other districts throughout the state should enact the plan. He sent copies to L.A. Superintendent John Deasy, California State Superintendent Tom Torlakson and federal education secretary Arne Duncan.

The alleged victims’ lawyers also claim that at least one of their clients experienced "suffering" because a print of a Pablo Picasso painting was posted in Mark Berndt’s classroom. Berndt is the former teacher who's accused of abusing 23 students over at least five years.

Pointing at a copy of Picasso's "Girl Before a Mirror" (pictured above), Carrillo said, "Given the context of everything that was occurring within the classroom, everything that he was doing with the children, this may be additionally distressing to the kids, to confuse them because these kinds of symbols [in the painting]."

The original of the abstract nude hangs in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Here's its description:

Picasso's young mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter, one of his favorite subjects in the early 1930s. Her white-haloed profile, rendered in a smooth lavender pink, appears serene. But it merges with a more roughly painted, frontal view of her face—a crescent, like the moon, yet intensely yellow, like the sun, and "made up" with a gilding of rouge, lipstick, and green eye-shadow.

(Do you agree that this painting is inappropriate for children? Vote in our poll below.)

Reform plan

The centerpiece of the proposed reform plan is appointing an independent monitor or ombudsman to ensure that school officials at every level are complying with outlined safety policies. Carrillo also proposes setting up an anonymous hotline to report abuses.

At a press conference in his Pasadena office, Carrillo said, "We seek permanent structural changes and the way to [that] is with an independent monitor."

He said the security of anonymity will encourage teachers and other school adminstrators to report abuses without fear of retribution. And he went on to say the hotline would be "like a fire alarm" that "rings in the superintendent’s office and board members’s office alerting the district that there are problems in a particular school." 

In response to Carrillo's assertions that the district neglected to respond to allegations that Berndt abused students during the 1990s, L.A. Unified's General Counsel released a statement listing changes enacted since Berndt's arrest. They include: 

  • Implementing new District-wide 72-hour guidelines for mandatory notification of parents regarding alleged abuse.
  • Participating in a full external audit of LAUSD practices and efforts by the California State Auditor.
  • Immediately reviewing 40 years of past personnel files and streamlining reporting to improve information sharing and monitoring for potential problems and signs of abuse.
  • Establishing an investigative commission, led by retired California Supreme Court Associate Justice Carlos Moreno and distinguished civil rights attorney Connie Rice, to evaluate district efforts and policies and recommend ways to improve protections against abuse.

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