Parents of the victims of a Los Angeles teacher — who now faces 23 felony charges related to sexual abuse of his students — are suing the district, CNN reports. The lawsuit was filed in the Los Angeles County Superior Court and is seeking compensation for the general shock and trauma along with compensatory damages and reimbursement of medical expenses such as physical exams and psychological counseling.
The plaintiffs also want the Los Angeles Unified School District to change the way it handles sexual assault allegations against its staff, and change what the suit calls the district’s “culture of science.”
Children whose parents are filing the suit were the alleged victims of Mark Berndt, who was a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School and is awaiting trial for 23 counts of lewd acts on children. Berndt pleaded not guilty at his arraignment earlier this year, and is being held on a $23 million bond.
The 23 victims were between 7 and 10 years old, and all but two of them were girls, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said.
The 14 mothers’ lawsuit says Berndt took photographs of their children “with cookies in the mouths of plaintiff’s children, and/or blindfolded the children, and/or placed cockroaches on the bodies of plaintiff’s children, for the intent of arousing and gratifying the lust, passions and sexual desires of Mark Berndt.”
At the end of last year, Berndt, who is 61, was accused of spoonfeeding students his bodily fluids and taking bondage photos of the children in the classroom during school hours. Even then, the district couldn’t find a way to dismiss him from his job, instead paying Berndt $40,000 to voluntarily resign and drop the appeals against the decisions to fire him.
Later, district superintendent John Deasy and other officials said that the accusations so betrayed the public trust, that the LAUSD had no choice but to remove the entire staff at Miramonte Elementary. In all, 150 people were replaced.
This case highlighted that it has become impossible to remove a teacher even for gross affronts to public decency and widespread sexual abuse of his position — and the children under his care.
The publicity surrounding the case has led to calls to simplifying the process of teacher removal in the district. The city’s mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, wrote a letter to the California Governor Jerry Brown in March that said that dismissal procedures employed in the LAUSD needed to be streamlined.