Scandal-plagued Miramonte Elementary School remained closed for a second day today as teachers and staff members being removed from the campus met with their replacements and finished vacating their offices before the school reopens tomorrow.
The staff shakeup was ordered by Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy in response to the arrests of two teachers accused of lewd acts with children.
The school’s staff will be replaced in part by qualified teachers who were on a rehiring list created when the district was forced to lay off educators in response to budget shortfalls.
Deasy said the move was intended to reassure parents that the abuse issue was being addressed forcefully. But it has engendered grousing from some staff, students and parents who complained the house-cleaning was causing unnecessary disruptions for pupils of the school in the unincorporated Florence area.
The displaced teachers, administrators, clerical and custodial staff will remain on the payroll and be assigned to a school now under construction.
The superintendent said his investigation is designed to uncover whether the school is plagued by a “culture of silence,” which could have allowed the two teachers now under arrest — both members of the staff for decades — to carry out their alleged crimes with impunity.
“How is it conceivably possible that this could take place … and (administrators) didn’t know or say anything is what I’m trying to understand,” he said.
Former Miramonte third-grade teacher Mark Henry Berndt, 61, was arrested Jan. 30 for allegedly taking photos of students who were blindfolded, had tape over their mouths and spoons of his semen held to their lips. He had taught at the school for 30 years.
Berndt was removed from the school campus early last year when the allegations arose, and he retired before his termination by the district was finalized. He is charged with abusing 23 children between 2005 and 2011, is being held in lieu of $23 million — $1 million per alleged victim — and is
scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 21 at the Metropolitan Branch Courthouse.
On Friday, teacher Martin Springer, 49, was arrested, with bail set at $300,000. Springer, who was at the school for about 25 years, was charged Tuesday with three counts of committing a lewd act on a child involving one student.
The Los Angeles Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to fire Springer, who will have 30 days to appeal the decision. The board on Monday also fired Hamilton High School music teacher Vance Miller, 50, who was accused by two former students of having had sex with them. Miller was never charged.
The state Commission on Teacher Credentialing suspended Springer’s teaching credential. Berndt’s credential was suspended Jan. 31 after charges were filed against him.
In a letter sent to LAUSD employees, Deasy said every class at Miramonte will be taught by a two-person team made up of an instructor and counselor “to help students remain focused on learning and also offer immediate and ongoing support.”
Deasy said counseling would be offered to current and former Miramonte students and their families, and that retired California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno would lead a commission to review school district practices and the events that occurred at the school.
The school board has expressed support for Deasy’s decision, while the teachers’ union expressed no objections to the staff relocation.
A hotline at 866-247-5877 has been established for anyone to report information about Miramonte Elementary. People can also email the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department at email@example.com.