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Accused ex-Telfair teacher appears in court

February 15, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
A former teacher at Telfair Elementary School was in court Wednesday amid child sex abuse accusations.

Paul William Chapel, who taught third grade at the Pacoima school, appeared briefly in a San Fernando courthouse for a preliminary hearing. He walked into court sideways, facing away from media cameras the entire time.

The defense team was supposed to file a motion for discovery in which the district attorney's office requested any and all statements made by Chapel. But the DA handed over that information prior to Wednesday's appearance, so the motion was withdrawn. The judge set the next court date for Chapel's preliminary hearing on March 20.

Chapel is the fourth of what has now become five suspects all within the Los Angeles Unified School District to be charged with child sex abuse.

Most parents at Telfair Elementary School learned about the sex abuse charges facing Chapel on Friday. However, the investigation started last April and Chapel was arrested in October.

Many parents are furious at the principal and the district, saying they hid the allegations from them. As a result, two parents showed up for Chapel's hearing Wednesday because they say they don't trust the school to provide them with information anymore.

"They said it's a communication issue. But it's a communication issue from the side of the principal not from the side of the parents, and the parents are outraged because nothing is being done," said parent Kathy Morales.

Another parent, Michelle Salazar, said she wants to know what is going on in the community and know her children are safe.

Chapel has pleaded not guilty to 16 counts of lewd acts on a child involving four victims - three girls and one boy. In one case, he's accused of picking up one of his students by the legs during class and kissing her on the neck and stomach.

Tuesday, the FBI arrested a Fremont High School teacher's aide. Alain Salas, 40, is accused of sending inappropriate Internet messages to a 15-year-old student with the intent to commit a sexual offense. Salas is being held without bail and is expected in court on Wednesday.

"He was always respectful. He never crossed the line, especially working with young ladies," said student Tania Gonzalez.

Fremont High School is about two miles from Miramonte Elementary School, where the string of sexual assault cases began.

Mark Berndt, who taught third grade at the school, faces 23 felony counts that include allegations that he fed his semen to students in his classroom.

Another former teacher, Martin Springer, has pleaded not guilty to committing three lewd acts on a girl in his class.

Paul Adame, a janitor at Germain Street Elementary School in the San Fernando Valley, is also accused of committing a lewd act with a child on campus.

The LAUSD superintendent says he doesn't believe there is anything systemic within the district, only that there's now more awareness which has resulted in more victims feeling comfortable to come forward and report abuse.