July 13, 2012 — As a Los Angeles teacher faces 23 felony charges for sexually abusing children at a Miramonte public school, fourteen mothers have filed a sexual abuse lawsuit against the school district that employed the teacher. The parents are seeking damages for “generalized shock and trauma” and “compensatory economic and special damages for medical expenses.” Many of the parents and abused children are currently in psychological counseling.
The lawsuit is also asking for reforms in the Los Angeles Unified School District to help ensure that teacher misconduct is not ignored in the future.
Mark Berndt, a former Miramonte Elementary teacher, faces 23 felony counts of lewd acts on children and is being held on $23 million bond. He is accused of sexually abusing 23 children, mostly young girls. Berndt allegedly lured children into his classroom, blindfolded them, fed them cookies covered in an unidentified white substance, and took photographs of the children with cockroaches on their faces and with semen-filled spoons at their mouths.
The criminal investigation began in December 2010, when the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department was notified that hundreds of “questionable photographs of children on film that Mr. Berndt had brought (to) a local store to have developed,” according to the lawsuit. Authorities have uncovered at least 600 images taken by Berndt in his classroom.
When the school district became aware of the investigation, Berndt was removed from the classroom in January 2011, ending his 30-year career at Miramonte Elementary. He was arrested soon afterward. Following his arrest, another Miramonte teacher, Martin Springer, was arrested and charged with three felonies for lewd acts with a girl under 14 years old.
According to David Holmquist, general counsel for the Los Angeles school district, “The district is committed to working with the Miramonte community and everyone impacted by these incidents to improve trust and promote healing.” Furthermore, he said, “We are continuing our efforts to ensure that we are doing everything possible to provide a safe learning and working environment for our students and staff.”
In May 2012, a separate civil lawsuit was filed on behalf of 22 children who were allegedly abused by Berndt. There is also a criminal case involving 23 alleged victims. The Los Angeles district attorney may bring additional criminal charges against Berndt on behalf of nine additional victims, but an official decision has not been made.
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