Fallout Continues In L.A. School's Lewd Photo Scandal
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The scandal at a Los Angeles elementary school is growing. Earlier this week, a longtime teacher at Miramonte Elementary was taken into custody. He's accused of lewd behavior with at least 23 children. And today, a second teacher was arrested after being removed from the school amid allegations of abuse.
Vanessa Romo of member station KPCC has our story. But first, a warning: This report contains disturbing content.
VANESSA ROMO, BYLINE: In Spanish, miramonte literally means lookout hill. Parents of students at the South L.A. elementary school appear shaken that no one seemed to be looking out for them or their children. They're outraged, angry, deeply disturbed. And like Kimberly Kirkland, they have a lot of questions.
KIMBERLY KIRKLAND: My number one question is that: He's been working here for 30 years, so is these 23 victims within a 30-year span, or is these 23 victims within the last few years? How far back does this date?
ROMO: At this point, police are saying it goes back to 2005. Sixty-one-year-old Mark Berndt is accused of a variety of disturbing acts, including a tasting game in which he gagged and blindfolded children and spoon-fed them a white substance that DNA tests revealed to be his semen. Berndt was brought to the attention of authorities when a CVS photo processor reported the disturbing images. He was arrested Monday following a yearlong investigation that was conducted unbeknownst to parents at the elementary school.
And that has left the community reeling, especially as new information continues to surface. The latest: A second teacher was removed from class early yesterday morning after a student alleged inappropriate behavior by the teacher. L.A. County sheriff's special victims unit is now conducting an investigation. And yesterday, police disclosed a previous investigation into Berndt dating back almost two decades. A 9-year-old student of Berndt accused him of fondling her in class during a test. Sergeant Dan Scott.
SERGEANT DAN SCOTT LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: While she was sitting at her - at a table, Mr. Berndt came up to her and reached under the table towards her genitals. She pushed his hand away, and that was all that happened.
ROMO: An investigation was launched, but in the end, L.A. County district attorney dropped the case because there was insufficient evidence at the time to prove that a crime had occurred. Tamira Long is furious that parents were left in the dark, and she's dismayed that 10 victims are still unidentified.
TAMIRA LONG: Which is like - it's crazy because if you guys have been conducting this investigation for over a year, then you should have all the information you need thus far.
ROMO: Long said, like other parents, she fears for her children enough to seriously consider transferring schools.
LONG: Now, I'm just trying to make sure none of my kids were involved because I have a 5-year-old that goes here, and my 13-year-old used to go here. She graduated from this school.
ROMO: Santiago and Cha Cha Martinez have four kids at Miramonte Elementary - from kindergarten to third grade. And they want to see the photos depicting the children playing Berndt's so-called games.
SANTIAGO MARTINEZ: Everybody wants to see pictures to see if it's their kid or not, but they're not showing any.
CHA CHA MARTINEZ: Due to privacy matters, like, with the other people. But if it's your kid, then they'll contact you.
ROMO: LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy has launched an internal investigation by the district, independent of the sheriff's case. He said he can't fathom how Berndt could have escaped detection.
DR. JOHN DEASY: I'm a dad, and you can't think of a worst breach of trust. It's the most despicable thing that could happen to students. And the message is that's why we have a criminal justice system. That's why we have the police. I hope the man is locked away for the rest of his life and then some.
ROMO: Berndt's arraignment has been postponed until next month. His bail is set at $23 million. For NPR News, I'm Vanessa Romo in Los Angeles.
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