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Claims filed in Miramonte Elementary School abuse scandal case

March 2, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
The legal battle over the Miramonte Elementary School sex abuse scandal has begun. An attorney announced Friday he's filed claims against the Los Angeles Unified School District on behalf of several alleged victims.

There are 33 new claims against the district, 20 of them filed on behalf of children who are alleged victims and 13 of the claims on behalf of their mothers.

Attorneys claim the district participated in a massive cover-up of previous abuse claims, and that nothing was done about it.

Meanwhile, the scandal continues to have a ripple effect on the district and even teachers statewide.

By outward appearances the environment at Miramonte Elementary School seems to be returning to normal, but the alleged sex abuse scandal is far from resolved.

"This would have been prevented on behalf of them if the school board had acted promptly and taken corrective measures so that this does not happen to the kids," said attorney Luis Carillo.

Carrillo is an attorney who is representing dozens of students and parents who say they were victimized by former teacher Mark Berndt. Carrillo says the school district was negligent by not removing Berndt from the classroom when other allegations surfaced, including some that date back to 1990. Carrillo says the district covered up previous allegations to protect Berndt.

"What we have here implemented is an institutional culture of silence, starting from the school all the way up to these offices," said Carillo.

Frank Roseli says he was one of Berndt's former students at Miramonte in the 1990s.

"He would take pictures with us. He'll lay us on the table, put bugs on us," said Roseli.

Roseli is not part of any lawsuit, but he says he's angry at the district nonetheless.

"We never knew about that. The school covered up pretty good, we never knew nothing about that," said Roseli.

LAUSD did not comment on any of the pending litigation.

Berndt was arrested in January and charged with 23 counts of lewd acts with his students for alleged incidents that date back to 2005. Prosecutors say Berndt blindfolded his students, took photographs, and in some cases fed them his semen.

The LAUSD has now banned the use of blindfolds district-wide.

And in another related development, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was in Washington Friday, is asking Governor Jerry Brown to help make it easier to fire teachers accused of crimes.

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy has asked for similar changes, saying the current system encourages resignation instead of termination.

The 33 new claims were filed Thursday. They seek unspecified monetary damages. Six of those students named in those claims are also named in the criminal complaint against Berndt, who remains behind bars with bail set at $23 million.