Court Rejects Charge Against L.A. Official
A Los Angeles Unified School District official's conviction on criminal charges for failing to report allegations of child abuse by a teacher to city police has been overturned.
A three-judge panel of the Los Angeles Superior Court late last month reversed the misdemeanor conviction of Stuart Bernstein, a regional administrator, finding that he had complied with state law by reporting the allegations to the school system's security force.
The teacher involved, Terry Bartholome, was convicted last year of molesting 13 girls ages 8 and 9.
The criminal charge against the administrator was the first in the district involving a school employee's responsibility under California's 1982 Child Abuse Reporting Act, according to district officials.
Mr. Bernstein had reported the allegations about Mr. Bartholome to the Los Angeles School Police in December 1984, after three weeks of discussions with the teacher's principal. Three days later, the school police reported the case to police.
The Los Angeles city attorney filed charges against Mr. Bernstein for failing to report the allegations to the proper agency. He was convicted by a jury last year and sentenced to two years' probation and 400 hours of community service.
Mr. Bernstein appealed the conviction on the grounds that the trial judge was mistaken in telling the jury that the school police should not be considered a child-protective agency. The appellate panel agreed, and said he had complied with the reporting requirement.
Under school-district policy, administrators must report child abuse to the school police. Because of Mr. Bernstein's conviction, the district has advised employees also to report such charges to an outside agency, such as the city police. That policy will remain in force, a district spokesman said last week.
Mr. Bernstein, who was demoted in June, has taken a leave of absence for the year, the spokesman said. The school board has the authority to decide whether to reinstate him.--kg