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4 more Miramonte school students file lawsuits in child abuse case

Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angel

Krista Kennell/AFP/Getty Images

Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, California February 6, 2012.

The list of plaintiffs in the case over alleged child abuse by teachers at Miramonte Elementary School is getting a little longer. Attorneys representing four students who say a teacher performed lewd and lascivious acts against them announced they filed a lawsuit against L.A. Unified.

The four children are all under 11-years-old and are former students of veteran Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt. He is accused of feeding some of his students cookies laced with his own body fluids and then taking pictures of it.

In addition to damages, attorney John Manly – of the law firm Manly and Stewart – is demanding that L.A. Unified release all reports of abuse by teachers throughout the district.

Without those documents there’s no way to “understand where the failure happened and who’s responsible,” Manly said. “Because if you just pay money and you don’t fix that, other kids are going to get hurt."

The lawsuits were filed in the wake of a report issued last week by the California State Auditor, which concluded that LAUSD failed to properly report at least 144 cases of teacher misconduct to state authorities.

The law firm of Manly and Stewart specializes in litigating sexual abuse civil cases. And Manly’s work was featured in the 2006 documentary “Deliver Us from Evil,” about the prosecution of Oliver O’Grady, a Roman Catholic priest, convicted of child molestation.

David Holmquist serves as general counsel for the school district. He issued a statement in response to the lawsuit:

“Although the school district has yet to receive this latest complaint, we are continuing to pursue an early resolution process with everyone impacted. Our sincerest hope is that through this process we can avoid the potential pain of lengthy litigation while promoting healing and improving trust with the community. We welcome the opportunity to work with Senator Escutia and Mr. Manly through this early resolution process.”

The 61-year-old Berndt taught at L.A. Unified’s Miramonte Elementary for more than 30 years. He was arrested in February after a yearlong investigation that was triggered when a photo lab worker told authorities about pictures Berndt brought in for processing: photos of kids with cockroaches on their faces, eating cookies topped with a white substance, sometimes bound and blindfolded. Berndt is charged with 23 counts of lewd acts against children.

Another Miramonte teacher, Martin Bernard Springer, recently pleaded not guilty to three felony counts of fondling a student.

Manly says his firm represents another 22 alleged victims and will be filing civil lawsuits on their behalf in the near future.

About 100 other students say they have been victims of some type of abuse at Miramonte and are in talks with the district to reach a settlement.

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