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LAUSD child abuse investigations need improvement - state audit

Miramonte Elementary School is seen in this undated file photo.
November 29, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Results of a report about how the Los Angeles Unified School District handles teacher misconduct claims were released Thursday.

The California State Auditor's Office looked into how the district and schools respond once the claim is filed. The audit looked at six sample schools in the district to see if they were following procedures.

The audit found "the district failed to report as required at least 144 cases -- including cases involving employee misconduct against students -- and they were submitted a year or more late when the district finally did report them," according to State Auditor Elaine Howle.

The district was more than three years late in reporting 31 of the cases, according to Howle. She cited "inconsistent" office processes and other systemic problems for the delays in reporting.

The district also failed to adequately explain delays in disciplining or dismissing employees accused of child abuse, according to the audit.

The audit credits the district with making improvements to its processes for reporting, investigating and tracking suspected child abuse over time, including the creation of a special unit to complex cases of suspected child abuse.

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said the report acknowledged the "strong steps" that the district has taken over the past several months to improve the safety of students.

"Along with other policy changes up and down the system instituted by the district, including the 72-hour notification to parents of alleged employee misconduct at their child's school, these steps will help to further the trust and confidence of LAUSD families that students are learning in a safe environment," Deasy said.

Warren Fletcher, head of United Teachers Los Angeles, says teachers support safeguards for students, but he criticized Deasy for his response at Miramonte. Instead of only removing the two teachers arrested, Deasy removed all 85 Miramonte teachers and sent them to a separate facility while investigations were underway, a practice employees call "teacher jail."

"At a school that was already undergoing trauma, it completely destabilized the school, it was a huge traumatic experience for the students at Miramonte because their teachers were taken away from them for six months," Fletcher said.

The union chief says the investigations are taking too long and that money is wasted when teachers are removed based on allegations that are not credible.

The district reports there are currently 298 employees who are out of the classroom and in limbo. The cost for replacing them with substitute teachers is $1.4 million a month. But Deasy says cost is not the issue.

"Would you want the teacher next to your child? I don't think so. Not unless the teacher is completely cleared," he said.

As for further speeding the disciplinary process, both the superintendent and the state auditor are looking for changes in the law pending in the state legislature.

The audit was requested after two teachers from Miramonte Elementary School were arrested for lewd acts against students.

In January, third grade teacher Mark Berndt was arrested for allegedly taking lewd photos of some of his students while feeding them cookies laced with his semen.

A week later, second grade teacher Martin Bernard Springer was arrested for allegedly fondling two students.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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