As L.A. Probes Sex Abuse Charges, Staff Replaced At Elementary School

Feb 7, 2012
Originally published on February 7, 2012 6:26 pm

"In a dramatic move to quell parents' fears, Los Angeles school officials said they will temporarily replace the entire staff of an elementary school south of downtown Los Angeles, where two teachers have been accused of lewd acts against students," the Los Angeles Times writes.

KPCC's Pass/Fail blog says that "the district has never relocated an entire staff before." The changes at Miramonte Elementary School "will affect everyone from the principal to secretaries to teachers to custodians, [L.A. Unified Superintendent John] Deasy said. The staff will be moved to another school [where they will have no] student contact. Those who are not being investigated will continue to be paid, Deasy said." There are about 130 staffers being replaced.

As KPCC has previously reported, two teachers from the school have been arrested in recent weeks. Martin Bernard Springer, a second-grade teacher, is accused of "sexual misconduct with two girls who were 7-years-old at the time." Third-grade teacher Mark Berndt has been charged "with lewd acts involving 23 children."

Berndt and Springer are both in custody. Bail has been set at $23 million for Berndt and $2 million for Springer.

School officials tell the Times that "many, maybe all, of the current Miramonte staff will be returned to the school eventually." It adds that:

"Officials emphasized that no other educators at the school are under suspicion but that a bold act was needed to help remove the cloud over Miramonte. 'I cannot have another student tell me he is afraid,' Deasy told parents."

According to NBC Los Angeles:

"Come Thursday, Deasy said, the school will be restaffed and then some. Social workers will be placed in every classroom, and all staff and students from the past 30 years will be interviewed. Teachers from Miramonte school will be moved to another school that is currently under construction and has no students."

The school is closed today and Wednesday as it prepares for the staff change.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

In south Los Angeles, Miramonte Elementary is closed to students today. The school, the district and the community are dealing with a still-unfolding scandal. Two teachers are in jail, accused of sexual abuse and lewd acts involving their students.

And some major changes are coming to the school, as NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: Miramonte reopens on Thursday, and the brightly painted building will look the same. But, says Superintendent John Deasy, students will be greeted by an entirely new faculty and administration.

DR. JOHN DEASY: And we're talking, in this case, the entirety of the staff. That would be custodian to secretary, to teacher to administrator.

BATES: Drastic measures because of the scandal.

The school is located in Florence Firestone, an often-overlooked part of unincorporated Los Angeles, far away from the affluence of neighborhoods like West L.A. or Beverly Hills. Miramonte's population is almost 100 percent Latino.

Raymond Canal(ph) grew up in this neighborhood. At a recent protest, he says demographics may have everything to do with why nobody has paid attention to Miramonte until now.

RAYMOND CANAL: Where is Gloria Allred at? They touch a white lady's booty in somebody's political office, and Gloria Allred is there already. We got over 30 kids probably got molested, and all that, in here. And we're not doing nothing about it - nothing!

BATES: In fact, civil rights lawyer Gloria Allred might not yet be on the case, but lawsuits have been filed. Lawyer Luis Carrillo said the turmoil at Miramonte is the result of a school system that kept no running record of complaints that have been lodged against 61-year-old John Berndt and 49-year-old Martin Bernard Springer over the years.

LUIS CARRILLO: Year after year, parents were complaining. But the school district failed to monitor the classroom of these teachers, failed to monitor these teachers, and failed to properly supervise the children to protect them from abusive teachers.

BATES: Although there were no recorded complaints against John Berndt, there had been warning signs. The L.A. Times reports a former student saying she and two friends complained to their counselor about Berndt's lascivious behavior in the classroom, but they were told to stop making things up. The Times also said a father complained in 2008 that Berndt had taken inappropriate photos of his daughter.

Carrillo believes these reports won't be the only ones to surface.

CARRILLO: As a result of all these failures, we have all these tragedies. And I predict that we're just looking at the tip of the iceberg.

BATES: At a press conference yesterday evening, Superintendent John Deasy faced an auditorium of angry Miramonte families. Pale and obviously shaken, Deasy told them they were right to be furious.

DEASY: I'm a dad and a teacher, and I can't imagine anything more horrible than the trust that was violated of the students. I try to think about what I would say to my own child, and you struggle for words.

BATES: And, he said, two bad teachers shouldn't taint all the extraordinary ones he's met at Miramonte.

DEASY: I've also walked the campus, and seen astonishing teaching and caring and work inside that school - amazing work.

BATES: But, Deasy said, some hard steps will have to be taken to restore trust, including relocating all previous adults to an unoccupied school. They'll be placed on paid administrative leave until the end of the school year. And, like their students, Miramonte faculty and administrators will also receive psychological counseling, as the scandal is sorted out.

It's a lot of change to restore trust. But parents are already asking, is it enough?

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.