LA School District Reaches Settlement in Another Sexual Abuse Case

(Photo: Gina Ferazzi, LA Times)

(Photo: Gina Ferazzi, LA Times)

The Los Angeles Unified School District will pay $88 million in settlement money over sexual abuse cases at two elementary schools where complaints about teachers behavior surfaced before their eventual arrests.

The settlement, finalized over last weekend, involved 30 children and their families. It is the second largest such settlement from LAUSD. As documented by AOL News, two years ago, the Los Angeles school system paid nearly $140 million – the largest settlement in district history – to families of students sexually abused by Mark Berndt, an elementary school teacher.

“We’re glad that we’re able to resolve both of these cases so we can avoid potentially painful litigation and put these cases behind us,” said Gregory McNair, a senior attorney with LAUSD. “We’re turning a corner here because we’ve resolved the last two very large cases that were involving the district.”

The cases at De La Torre Elementary in Wilmington and Telfair Avenue Elementary in Tacoma emerged after another case of sexual misconduct became publicized at Miramonte Elementary. The abuse scandal spurred the school system to better document and retain allegations against employees.

According to reporters at The Los Angeles Times, an attorney representing the students said changes in school policy concerning sexual abuse were long overdue. The district will also focus on better training for educators, reporting and addressing allegations with greater alacrity. The district will also move toward setting up a special investigations unit.

Specifically, the De La Torre litigation involved 18 children and 19 of their parents. The Telfair settlement involved 12 minors. As reported by Greg Toppo of USA Today, the average payout will be around $3 million per family. The schools are located at opposite ends of the district and both primarily serve low-income communities.

The sprawling school district’s reputation suffered considerably after details emerged about the predators. For example, the district never conducted an internal investigation of Paul Chapel III at Telfair, who had been previously dismissed from a private school because of sexual misconduct. In all, Chapel sexually abused a dozen students over a decade, including such acts as kissing boys on their genitals. He is serving a 25-year sentence after a no contest plea.

At De La Torre, teacher Robert Pimentel had a long chain of accusations following him that led to little or no action taken by the district. A former district principal fielded complaints about Pimentel’s behavior as early as 2002, and such complaints continued to filter up to district officials but, despite having legitimate grounds, no investigation was launched. Pimentel has pleaded no contest to sexually assaulting girls, including a relative, and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

“We feel this is an ongoing problem in L.A. Unified, and we hope this amount of money will promote a change of heart and change of attitude when it comes to victims,” says John Manly, an attorney for the victims.

The sizable settlement brings a dark chapter in the L.A. school district’s history to a close. Policymakers hope that the reforms initiated after these case will help prevent future incidents.