School Embroiled in Child Abuse Scandal to Reopen with New Staff
By the CNN Wire Staff
FLORENCE, California — A Los Angeles-area school at the center of a shocking child abuse scandal reopens Thursday with an entirely new staff, including the principal, teachers, administrators and janitors.
The Los Angeles Unified School District replaced the Miramonte Elementary staff to avoid “surprises,” educators said.
About 70 new teachers will welcome the 1,400 students who attend Miramonte when they resume classes.
“The teachers are concerned on how the children are going to feel,” said Contisia Davis, a special education assistant and 16-year teaching veteran.
Davis, 36, said she and the new faculty are trained to include social skills in their lesson plans so kids can adjust to the sudden change of having all new teachers.
Classes resume as attorneys representing eight alleged victims say they’ll announce the first lawsuits of the sexual misconduct scandal. The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles will also join the news conference Thursday.
Los Angeles County investigators have found 200 more photos allegedly taken by Mark Berndt, 61, a former public elementary school teacher facing 23 felony counts of lewd acts with pupils, a sheriff’s spokesman said Wednesday.
Authorities identified pupils in 175 of the 200 photographs and are trying to identify those in the remaining 25, said Sgt. Dan Scott of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Authorities declined to provide further details.
Berndt, who allegedly took a total 600 photographs, was arrested last week and accused of taking bondage photos of more than two dozen students in his classroom, including some with suspected semen-filled spoons at their mouths.
The school board fired Berndt a year ago, but he appealed, then dropped the appeal and resigned last spring, school spokesman Tom Waldman said. He is being held in lieu of $23 million bail, authorities said.
The scandal has prompted difficult conversations in the Mexican immigrant enclave where the school is located, south of downtown Los Angeles.
“A parent isn’t prepared to have such a conversation — just trying to figure out what kind of words to use,” said Sergio Blanco,42, a painter whose two sons attend Miramonte.
“I told them they could tell me anything,” he said. “Don’t be afraid. You can confide in me.”
In their expanding investigation into the sexual misconduct scandal, authorities also charged a second teacher, Martin Bernard Springer, 49, of Alhambra, California, whom the school board fired Tuesday.
Springer was arrested and pleaded not guilty Tuesday to three felony charges of lewd acts with a girl under age 14.
“At this time, we have only enough evidence to charge him with one victim,” spokeswoman Jane Robison of the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said Wednesday.
Springer’s attorney, Daniel Kolodziej, said Wednesday that it is “premature” to release a statement or comment on allegations against his client.
The old Miramonte staff has been relocated indefinitely, school officials said.
That decision has upset many parents, who are angry that the school’s good teachers are being punished — by being transferred to another school — because of crimes allegedly committed by a couple of other teachers.
It will be up to the district to decide in the future where they will be assigned, they said. Technically, they are still considered Miramonte employees. All are expected to get special training.
Staffers and students will be questioned as part of the ongoing criminal investigation.
— CNN’s Michael Martinez, Stan Wilson, Casey Wian and Jaqueline Hurtado contributed to this report.