Schools got early warnings about abusive teacher

AP News
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Posted: Sep 27, 2014 5:27 PM
Schools got early warnings about abusive teacher

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Unified School District received a complaint three decades ago about possible sexual misconduct involving a teacher who was later accused of blindfolding students and spoon-feeding them his semen on cookies in what he called tasting games.

Documents recently made public in lawsuits brought by students and their parents show the district had multiple prior complaints about teacher Mark Berndt before the veteran teacher was suspended, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday (http://lat.ms/1BmiyKI).

The Miramonte Elementary School teacher was arrested in 2012 and given a 25-year sentence last year after pleading no contest to 23 counts of lewd conduct.

A 1983 memo by a school principal recounted how a parent complained that Berndt dropped his pants on a student field trip to a museum. In a handwritten note, Berndt thanked the principal for his support and said he learned not to wear baggy shorts on such trips.

Victims' families are trying to prove the district should be held liable because its employees should have known about Berndt's behavior before his suspension in 2011. Last year, the district agreed to pay $30 million to settle 58 claims, which accounts for about half of the students who have filed claims.

District spokesman Sean Rossall declined to discuss the complaints against Berndt but said the 32-year teacher did much to conceal his "misdeeds."

In the early 1990s, several fourth-grade girls complained to another principal that Berndt had been masturbating in class, the former students recalled in testimony. The allegations were dismissed, and the girls were accused of lying, they said.

Around the same time, a teacher who was observing the class reported to another principal that Berndt was wearing loose-fitting shorts and sitting in a way that exposed his genitals. The teacher recalled the principal saying there had been similar complaints from parents but there was nothing that could be done.

That principal denied receiving such a report, and called the teacher a liar. She also said she had never seen the 1983 memo.

Former senior district administrator George McKenna said files may have been moved when principals changed. At the time, the district did not have firm rules on how to maintain school files, the newspaper reported.

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Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com