Deal reached in Los Angeles school sex abuse case
LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Unified School District will pay $139 million to end remaining litigation involving an elementary school teacher convicted of committing numerous lewd acts on his students, according to the settlement announced Friday.
The deal involving 81 students puts a legal end to the saga that began when Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt was arrested in 2012 and accused of blindfolding students and feeding them his semen on spoons and cookies.
Plaintiff’s lawyers had planned to present evidence that the school district was aware of sexual misconduct by Berndt over three decades but failed to act until a photo processor at a pharmacy contacted police about pictures of blindfolded children being fed some substance.
The 19-year-old woman had only been on the job a month at CVS when she discovered the troubling photos and learned Berndt had been processing similar pictures there since 2005, said John Manly, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit.
“She was told not to call the police by her supervisors, and she did it anyway,” Manly said. “If she hadn’t made that call, we wouldn’t be here today and he’d still be teaching.”
The case led to an overhaul of how the nation’s second-largest school district handles allegations of sexual abuse. After Berndt’s arrest, the district removed all 130 staff members from the school and placed them at an unopened empty school during the lengthy investigation.
“Our goal from the outset of these appalling revelations has been to spare the Miramonte community the anguish of a protracted trial, while at the same time being mindful of the financial consequences stemming from settlements,” Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines said in a statement. “We believe we struck a balance between those objectives.”
The investigation caused a huge upheaval at the school, where most of the students are from poor Hispanic homes. Parents had been hesitant to complain about Berndt because of a deep respect for teachers, and they were reluctant to cooperate with police because many feared deportation.
Lawyers for the students said it was the largest sex-abuse case settlement involving a school district. The Associated Press couldn’t independently verify that claim.