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Miramonte has history of student sex abuse

February 7, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Attorney Keith Davidson says his young client kept photos given to him by his Miramonte Elementary School teacher, Mark Berndt.

He says the photos show Berndt, who is accused of sexually abusing 23 students at the school, feeding cookies with his semen on them.

"They were souvenirs of this lesson on the sense of taste," Davidson said. "I've seen pictures of my clients, boys, bound, with their hands behind their back."

This isn't Davidson's first case against a Miramonte employee.

Ricardo Guevara, a teacher's aide, is now serving a 15-year prison sentence for fondling three kindergarten girls at the school in 2003.

In 2008, a jury ordered the Los Angeles Unified School District to pay Guevara's victims a $1.6 million settlement.

"You would think that after this prior allegation Miramonte would be the safest school in the country," Davidson said.

The entire staff at Miramonte Elementary School will not return for the rest of the year amid the child-abuse scandal, officials said on Tuesday.

According to LAUSD officials, Miramonte's 128 employees will be replaced by new hires - which will primarily be teachers who were laid off - while the regular staff takes part in an administrative review and official investigation.

"We intend to interview every adult ... whether they are a teacher or an administrator, or whether they are an after-school playground worker or a custodian or a secretary," LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said.

The staff members will be reassigned to a new high school that's still under construction. Officials did not say how much the move would cost the district.

Many parents were unhappy with the district's decision to close the school for two days and replace the entire staff. Staff and faculty who came to the school on Tuesday to clean up and clear their classrooms were teary-eyed, along with about two dozen parents and children outside.

"We all know our teachers, and they know us. And we're going to get teachers we don't even know where they come from," said student Stephanie Perez, fighting back tears.

In the window of one classroom, sixth-grade teacher Andrea Shaffer was also emotional. She isn't certain when or if she will be back with the students she says she's learned to love.

Anthony Chavez is a fourth grader who doesn't want to see the teachers go.

"It's not their fault. It's Mr. Springer and Mr. Berndt's fault. I don't know why they're running them out," Chavez said.

Maria Alduna, who has two children at Miramonte, said she wouldn't keep them at the school if she thought they were in any danger from other teachers.

"I know a lot of teachers who have been doing a great job here, and they deserve to come back," she said.

The investigation revolves around two teachers who are accused of sexually abusing students at the school.

Berndt, a former Miramonte teacher, was arrested after a year-long investigation into his alleged abuse of 23 students, ages 6 to 10. According to authorities, the 61-year-old blindfolded children, fed them his semen as part of a tasting game and put cockroaches on some of their faces.

Martin Springer, 49, was arrested Friday on suspicion of fondling two girls in his classroom. The alleged lewd conduct happened in the last three years when the girls were about 7 years old, according to investigators.

On Tuesday, Springer was fired by the school board and formally charged with three felony counts of fondling a student. He pleaded not guilty to the charges. His bail was set at $300,000, and his next court appearance will be on Feb. 16.

The school board also fired Vance Miller, a longtime music teacher at Hamilton High School in West Los Angeles. Miller has not been charged with a crime, but he is under investigation by the LAPD for sexual misconduct with students.

Miller and the school district were hit with a lawsuit filed by one of his alleged victims, a former student now in his 20s.

"It included what many other students have talked about, the back rubs, the kissing, the showering naked. It also included, unfortunately, fondling of his genitals," said Anthony De Marco, attorney for the alleged victim.

Miller was not available for comment to the board's decision and the lawsuit.

Counseling services are available to all Miramonte students and their families upon request. Anyone who wishes to report information about Miramonte Elementary School can call LAUSD's hotline at (866) 247-5877.