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LAUSD rally for 'Schools We Can Believe In'

February 4, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
The "Schools We Can Believe In" rally at Exposition Park drew quite a large crowd on Saturday.

Thousands of parents, teachers and students at the demonstration were asking for better schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District. Many held up signs reading, "Students come first" or "Families for change."

"Great schools will only come when parents are engaged and demand results," said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. "Every child in every neighborhood deserves access to an excellent education."

"There's a crisis and it's nationwide," said Glendale resident Karen Satzman. "But there are not enough resources to put into educating and valuing our children."

Although the event was about supporting charter schools, the rally came on the heels of the arrests of two Miramonte Elementary School teachers accused of lewd acts with students.

Martin Bernard Springer, 49, was arrested on Friday, accused of fondling two 7-year-old girls at Miramonte, where he was a second-grade teacher. He is charged with lewd acts on a child and is being held on $2 million bail.

Alhambra residents who lived near Springer say they are surprised by the allegations.

"I don't know. It's hard to believe. He's a nice person. That's all I have to say," said neighbor Gabriel Urrutia.

Springer's arrest came days after another teacher at the school, Mark Berndt, was arrested for allegedly taking bondage-style photographs of nearly two dozen children. Berndt is charged with committing lewd acts on 23 children, ages 6 to 10, between 2005 and 2010.

"It's an abomination," said Villaraigosa. "I think everybody watching the news as this unravels has to be disgusted."

"What is happening today is not what should be happening," said LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia. "I am not going to make excuses for it. There is no way that this is acceptable behavior for anyone in any place, in or outside LAUSD. You are seeing an LAUSD that wants to identify, address, and work together to find the healing."

The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that Berndt and Springer knew each other. School newsletters show that they took their classes on at least two joint field trips over the last decade, the Times said.

Prosecutors say Berndt, who taught third grade, took photos of his students where they were blindfolded and gagged, and some had a roach on their faces. In some cases, the veteran teacher allegedly held spoons of semen to their mouths as part of a game.

Authorities found hundreds of photos of the children. Twenty-three students have been identified, but investigators are still working to identify 10 more students.

Berndt, who taught at the school for 30 years, was fired from the school shortly after the investigation began last year. He is being held on $23 million bail.

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy says he wants Springer fired as well, but because of California law, he nor the board can fire a teacher. The case has to go before an administrator law judge and a three-teacher panel.

During the entire process, Springer would be placed on paid leave. Even if Springer and Berndt are convicted, they would still receive their pension under California law.

"Why in such serious charges, we must be required to pay someone while the investigation is going on, they should be on unpaid leave. Of course if the person is innocent, no question whatsoever, all back-pay returned. But if they're not, why should we have had to pay for it? I think that's a problem. That is currently not the law," Deasy said.

The sheriff's department expects other students will now come forward. Anyone with information is urged to contact the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Special Victims Bureau at (877) 710-LASD of (877) 710-5273.