L.A. Sheriff's Department
The Los Angeles Unified School District violated state law by waiting nearly a year to inform the agency that oversees teacher credentials that it had moved to dismiss former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt accused of spoon-feeding his semen to children.
The state's Commission on Teacher Credentialing suspended Berndt's credential on Jan. 31, the same day he was arrested and charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct on children. But according to the state code of regulations and the education code, the LAUSD should have informed the credentialing commission of Berndt's February 2011 suspension without pay by mid-March of 2011.
The district paid Berndt a $40,000 settlement in June to ensure, it says, that he would no longer work for LAUSD and resign. But with his credential intact, Berndt could have legally obtained employment as a teacher at another district up until January 31.
Parents of students at Miramonte Elementary School escort children out of school on Feb. 6, 2012.
After the scandal at Miramonte Elementary School broke out last week, some undocumented parents of possible victims said they were afraid to come forward and risk deportation. What many aren't aware of is the existence of the U Visa, an option for immigrants who are victims of violence or abuse.
The majority of immigrants applying for U Visas are victims of domestic violence, but the application is open to anyone who has been a victim of a crime in the U.S. (Those who may have useful information for the police or who can assist with the investigation are also eligible.)
Immigration lawyer Jack Sung says that reporting the crime can be a certain, if complicated, path to getting papers.
"The process is basically like this," Sung explained. "You start with the investigation and then you get certification. You file the application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and you should get the actual status, normally, in six to 12 months, depending on how busy they are. And that is a temporary status."
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.
This 2003 photo provided by Flor Cervantes shows former Miramontes Elementary teacher Mark Berndt with her sister, Angelica Zuniga, then a third-grader, at the school in Los Angeles. Angelica Zuniga, 16, now a high school junior, said Berndt, who is now suspected of taking bondage-style photographs of children in his class, never asked her or others to do anything strange or to play any inappropriate games. (AP Photo/Flor Cervantes)
Amid parents and teachers union protests, the Miramonte Elementary School campus reopened Thursday with an entirely new faculty and staff. At the same time, lawyers announced that they’ve filed civil lawsuits on behalf of three students that the L.A. County sheriff’s investigators have yet to interview.
Lawyer Greg Owen claims that now-resigned Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt fed his three plaintiffs sperm-laced cookies and photographed them with cockroaches on their faces. He’s listed Berndt, Berndt's former colleague Martin Springer, Miramonte’s principal and LAUSD as defendants.
The district is part of the complaint, he said, because of negligent supervision.
"This guy locked his doors," according to Owen. "That violates every single school policy. Yet nobody knew it, nobody stopped it. I would think that at an average school a principal or an assistant principal are supposed to drop in on classes, once, twice, three times a week. Apparently that never occurred here."
Parents of students at Miramonte Elementary School escort they children out of school on February 6, 2012.
Following lewd conduct allegations against teachers at Miramonte Elementary, parents, students and attorneys have used the troubled school as a backdrop for emotional protests and press conferences. When the school reopens Thursday after a two-day shutdown, the crowds outside will likely be bigger than ever.
Though the grounds outside Miramonte Elementary have buzzed with activity in recent days, inside the school a whole new set of teachers absorbed a crash course on how to help kids cope with trauma and pick up where their old teachers had left off.
Pia Escudero manages school mental health services for LAUSD. In a perfect world, she says, the return to classes would be business as usual.
"Students will be expected to be in the classroom and resume learning as much as possible," says Escudero, although she adds that this learning will now involve a "new teacher and a psychiatric social worker."