Education

LAUSD rejects Miramonte students' claim for more compensation

Miramonte Elementary School is the center of a scandal where teacher Mark Berndt was accused of engaging in lewd acts on students.
Miramonte Elementary School is the center of a scandal where teacher Mark Berndt was accused of engaging in lewd acts on students.
Grant Slater/KPCC

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Officials at the Los Angeles Unified School District rejected a claim from a lawyer arguing his 58 students ensnarled in the Miramonte sex abuse scandal are owed millions more than they received in their settlement.

Paul Kiesel, the students' attorney, claims his clients were shortchanged in the $30 million settlement reached in 2013 because another group of Miramonte families received $139 million last fall. The sum was the largest payout of its kind in district history.

More than 100 students and parents sued the district after authorities charged former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt with 23 counts of committing lewd acts, including feeding students cookies laced with semen. Berndt is serving 25 years in prison. 

The district's claims coordinator, Toni Tosello, said the agreement prohibits those who settled early from suing LAUSD again. 

"They now want to back out of their deal and get more money because other claimants, nearly two years later, in radically different circumstances, after more than 100 depositions were taken, negotiated for more money as trial of their cases was to begin," Tosello wrote in a March 27 letter to Kiesel's firm. After a public records request, the district released the letter to KPCC in late April.

Kiesel argues the early settlement included a "most favored nation clause," which would entitle his clients to compensation greater than or equal to later settlements.

"You want to make sure all children who were abused in a similar fashion are similarly situated and treated fairly," said Raymond Boucher, an attorney who with Kiesel represented students in the earlier settlement.

Since the district rejected their claim, Boucher said he will ask court mediators to again intervene.