Is an Investigation into Los Angeles Abuse Scandals Warranted?

Former Senator Martha Escutia is calling for an investigation of the Los Angeles Unified School District into what she sees as a pattern of teacher abuse against Latino students. Escutia made the announcement at the Wilmington Elementary School earlier this week, saying that among the recent rash of abuse scandals coming to light, there appears to be a prevalence of cases where teachers transgressed against Latino kids, especially in low-income parts of the city.

Escutia is part of the legal team that is representing the nearly 30 abuse victims of the Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt. She also called out district administrators for withholding information on up to 600 other suspected cases of abuse at Miramonte and elsewhere.

Escutia compared LAUSD’s actions to that of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, whose leaders famously stonewalled government investigations into sexual abuse allegations as well as kept information from victims seeking restitution.

Escutia’s comments come several days after law enforcement officials announced the arrest of former LAUSD teacher Robert Pimentel on charges he sexually abused at least 20 children at George De La Torre Jr. Elementary School in Wilmington, where Escutia held her press conference.

In that case, the school’s principal at the time took no action when similar allegations were leveled against the same teacher at another school, according to LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy. Pimentel and the principal, Irene Hinojosa, both retired on the same day as Deasy was moving to fire them, he told the Los Angeles News Group, which includes the Daily Breeze.

Still, Escutia found Deasy’s response inadequate, saying that the LAUSD was keeping mum on the pervasive problem of sexual abuse in its schools. The district responded to her allegations by issuing a statement outlining the steps it has taken to uncover, investigate and punish those guilty of misconduct with students.

David Holmquist, LAUSD’s general counsel, said that not only has the district been more vigorous in its actions against teachers accused of serious misconduct, but they’ve also implemented policies that would make it easier for people to report incidents and get action on them from those in authority.

Holmquist said the district is working with state Sen. Alex Padilla, a San Fernando Valley Democrat, on a bill that would speed the process of firing teachers accused of serious misconduct.

He also cited reforms that have already occurred within the district, such as a new policy mandating that parents be notified within 72 hours of any misconduct allegations at a school where their children attend.

The Miramonte Elementary scandal erupted a year ago, when police arrested teacher Mark Berndt at his Torrance residence on suspicion of lewd acts, such as taking photos of kids eating spoonfuls of his semen.