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L.A. Reassigns School Staff During Probe of Abuse

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The entire staff of a 1,500-student Los Angeles elementary school has been reassigned while the district and police investigate allegations that two teachers there performed lewd acts on students.

John E. Deasy, the superintendent of the 664,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District, stated in a letter that prescreened staff members new to the school would teach at Miramonte Elementary School until the end of the school year.

In addition, the letter says, the district will offer counseling services to all students at the school, past and present. The district also plans to work with an independent commission, which will "review our processes and provide recommendations so that every LAUSD school can learn from this experience."

"Some might see this as an extreme measure, but this is an extreme circumstance," Mr. Deasy said in his letter.

Monica Carazo, a spokeswoman for the school system, told Education Week that 128 teachers and front-office staff, as well as the janitorial staff, were being relocated to a school building that is opening next year and currently has no students.

The moves at Miramonte Elementary were made after the Jan. 30 arrest of Mark Berndt, who is described as a well-liked teacher who had taught at the school for 31 years. The Los Angeles Times reported that in late 2010, a photo technician at a convenience store saw pictures of young children blindfolded and with tape over their mouths, and reported the photos to police authorities. During the investigation, police say they saw pictures of students with a blue plastic spoon with a milky white substance held near their mouths. Police found a spoon and container in his classroom that tested positive for Mr. Berndt's semen.

Mr. Berndt, 61, was removed from the school in January 2011 after district administrators saw the pictures. As the district prepared to fire him, he retired. He was arrested last month and charged with 23 counts of lewd acts against children. He is in custody, with bail set at $23 million.

Three days after Mr. Berndt's arrest, a second teacher at the school, Martin Springer, was arrested on charges that he fondled two 7-year-old students in the classroom, the Times reported. The teachers would sometimes take their students on joint field trips, according to the Times. Mr. Springer is being held on $2 million bail.

No statements were available from either of the accused men or their lawyers.

The allegations shocked the parents, many of whom pulled their children from the classroom. Some demanded that all the teachers at the school be investigated. Mr. Deasy's letter pledges that "every former Miramonte student and staff member" will be interviewed.

Vol. 31, Issue 21, Page 5

Published in Print: February 22, 2012, as L.A. Reassigns School Staff During Probe of Abuse
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