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."
Parents of students at Miramonte Elementary School escort children out of school on Feb. 6, 2012.
The mothers of young girls who say they are victims of a teacher’s lewd and lascivious acts at Miramonte Elementary School are suing the LA Unified School District. Their attorney is Luis Carrillo, who’s also representing 22 former students at the school in a separate legal action.
At his South Pasadena office, Carrillo sat flanked by a pair of his clients – two emotional women speaking in Spanish about their daughters’ connection to Mark Berndt. He’s the LA Unified School District teacher accused of feeding some of his students cookies laced with his own body fluids - and then taking pictures of it.
Elvia Campos is one of Carillo’s clients. She said her daughter often went to Berndt’s classroom after school to help clean up. The teacher would lavish her daughter with compliments, telling her she was a good girl, an intelligent girl, said Campos smearing her thick black eyeliner as she wiped tears from her eyes.
Campos and 13 other women are suing LA Unified and two of Miramonte’s former principals. They say they want the school district to pay for therapy for their children, but they did not say what other damages they might ask for.
John Henrichs works with Carrillo, representing the mothers.
At a press conference he said: “The moms have been traumatized and normally under the law a parent of a victim is not entitled to any type of recovery. However, if there’s a special relationship, which we’re alleging in this case there is because the school district has a special relationship to take care of the safety of the children, that that entitles the parents to come forward and seek justice for themselves here and get their own therapy.”
Carrillo says the children and their mothers have been in intensive therapy since the day after finding out about Berndt’s alleged crimes.
The 61-year-old Berndt taught at LA 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.
In a separate case, another Miramonte was arrested and charged with two counts of lewd acts. Martin Bernard Springer is under house arrest with an ankle bracelet, while Berndt remains in jail.
LA County Sheriff’s Sergeant Dan Scott says the Berndt investigation has been wide-ranging. Scott said detectives in the Special Victims Unit have “identified and interviewed approximately 285 children. And they have all been interviewed and statements documented and that information has been turned over to the district attorney.”
Investigators have also concluded interviews in the Springer case.
L.A. Sheriff's Department
Accused Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt, who allegedly took photos of blindfolded and gagged students with semen-tainted cookies or spoons held to their mouths, was back before a judge Wednesday as the court tried to decide whether there is enough evidence for the case to proceed, but was sent back to jail after a request to reduce his bail from $23 million to $1 million was rejected.
Berndt, 61, was arrested Jan. 30 and charged with 23 counts of committing a lewd act on a child. The children were between 7 and 10 years old; the alleged crimes took place between 2005 and 2011.
This time, Berndt showed up in court clean-shaven and with his hair cut short, grooming he says he was denied for his first court appearance. But that was the only thing that went his way at the hearing.
Two former students of Mark Berndt, the teacher accused of lewd conduct in his classroom at Miramonte Elementary School, said school officials were informed about his odd behavior 20 years ago.
The president of LAUSD's board stood behind a school district decision to reach a financial settlement last year with former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, now accused of lewd acts on 23 young students.
A public records investigation by KPCC and NBC4 revealed that LAUSD had paid Berndt about $40,000 after he challenged the school board’s move to fire him. The money was for Berndt’s back wages and legal fees.
Monica Garcia, president of the school board, defended the decision, saying the reason she supported the settlement was because "it was completing the task of removing this person as an employee of LAUSD and never letting him be before our kids again."
The board was told Berndt had allowed himself to be blindfolded at school. But members didn’t have the information that led L.A. County sheriff’s deputies to arrest him seven months later.
Some Miramonte students and parents protest a complete change in faculty and staff at the elementary school. The protest sign reads: "We don't want new teachers"
The United Teachers Los Angeles said this morning that the 85 Miramonte Elementary teachers removed following the arrests of two former teachers accused of lewd acts with children would not be allowed to return regardless of the investigation's outcome. But LAUSD's Superintendent John Deasy quickly shot back, calling the claim "absolutely false."
The fracas came as children were returning to Miramonte to resume classes after a two-day hiatus to replace staff, a move that will cost the district millions of dollars.
UTLA head Warren Fletcher said outside the school that it received notice yesterday that teachers wouldn't return, despite what Deasy told parents on Monday. Fletcher called the permanent relocation a "disciplinary transfer outside of the investigation" and said in a release “It’s clear that LAUSD does not have a plan."