The scandal involving a California teacher accused of years of sexual acts with students shows no sign of abating. A year after Mark Berndt, a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School, was arrested and charged, he remains behind bars awaiting trial, while the school he left is in tatters as it works to put itself back together.
When the story first came to light it proved to be so shocking that every single staff and faculty member was temporarily removed from the school by the district chief. Although most have returned to their jobs, both the school and the district find itself on the receiving end of nearly 200 parent lawsuits stemming from the incident.
In addition, a California State Auditor’s review of the school district triggered by the Miramonte scandal found school officials were slow to act on many allegations of employee misconduct and often failed to notify the state teacher credentialing commission as required. The review found that at least 144 cases were submitted more than one year late, and 31 were more than three years late.
Although the Los Angeles Unified School District – of which Miramonte is a part – has reached out to the families in order to negotiate out of court settlements, the final price tag of all the legal actions is expected to be in the millions. A part is expected to be covered by insurance, but a substantial chunk will still come out of LAUSD’s already-evaporating coffers.
The majority of parents are party to the talks, yet a number of them have either dropped out or refused to negotiate with the district at all. Among their complaints are accusations that the district is not approaching the talks in good faith, and is continuing to stonewall when asked to release a number of important documents. Parents are also frustrated that district officials don’t appear to be interested in offering fair financial settlements and instead are offering low-ball proposals.
“The mediation process was a sham. … It was just a delay tactic on their part,” says attorney Brian Claypool, who has sued on behalf of 12 children and 19 parents. Those suits allege that the school system allowed children to be victimized repeatedly despite complaints and red flags raised about Berndt over two decades. Luis Carrillo, who represents another 23 students who have filed suit, said he dropped out of the talks after attorneys for the school district made offers to only two of the children.
“Miserable, insulting offers,” Carrillo said. “They have been deceptive, dishonest with the kids.”
As frustrating as the civil case negotiations have been, it appears that the criminal case is moving even more slowly. Nearly a year to the day has passed since Berndt was arrested on January 30th of last year and charged with 23 counts of lewd acts with a child. Since pleading not guilty he has been languishing in prison, unable to raise $23 million to cover his bail.