LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy
Former Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt's sentencing Friday mostly ends what many have called the biggest child sex abuse scandal in the history of L.A. Unified.
Far from the courtroom and press conferences, most parents at the school said they feel confident in its administration - and that their kids are safe, two years after Berndt's arrest rocked the neighborhood.
"So far [at] Miramonte, everything been alright. Everything’s cool. My son’s cool. He likes his teacher. Everything’s straight," said David Medina as he waited to give his fifth grade son a ride home on the back of his bicycle.
In January 2012, Berndt was charged with dozens of felony child abuse charges when he tried to develop photos of blindfolded students eating what appeared to be his bodily fluids and posing with a giant hissing cockroach. A sharp photo technician called police.
After Berndt’s arrest, district officials found out parents had been complaining about him and other teachers for years.
On Friday, Berndt, 62, accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Schools Superintendent John Deasy held a press conference to say a lot has changed since Berndt's arrest.
"Our ability to protect students is tremendously enhanced. Our reporting ability is tremendously improved, and our ability to recognize signs of behaviors that are threatening or harmful to students has been the source of tremendous amount of professional development," Deasy said.
Parents and guardians are now notified within three days if a school employee has been accused of misconduct, he said. The district also reports allegations more quickly to state teacher credentialing officials. And he said he's increased the number of district employees investigating misconduct allegations.
Maria de Los Angeles Jimenez enrolled her son this year in sixth grade at Miramonte and was keenly aware of the allegations against Berndt. As a result, she said she's very vigilant.
"I ask him if his teachers treat him OK," she said, more often than she might have otherwise.
Another parent, Maria Ruiz, doesn’t think the school district has done enough to protect students. Her 15-year-old had Berndt as a teacher. Now she has a kindergartner at the school.
"Parents have to be present," she said.
Many other parents wouldn’t answer reporter questions, weary of the waves of media attention that have come and gone at the Florence-Firestone school.
Deasy said he’s relieved Berndt’s plea deal will shield families from having to testify at a criminal trial.
"While the school district was not a party to the prosecutor’s plea deal, we are however relieved that the students and their families will be able to put this behind them and continue to move forward and heal," he said.
L.A. Unified has spent nearly $30 million to settle lawsuits with families of 63 students who claimed they were abused. Claims by the families of another 71 former students remain open.