Accused teacher blindfolded kids for ‘tasting’ test, source says
Berndt is accused of committing lewd acts on at least 23 children, including blindfolding them and spoon-feeding them a white substance that authorities say was the teacher's semen.
Children told investigators that they were being enlisted in a tasting game, according to a district source who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak. They were supposed to say whether the substance was sweet or salty and whether they liked the taste. The blindfolds were necessary, Berndt allegedly said, "because he was going to put on bright lights to take the pictures and he didn't want to hurt their eyes."
The photos were apparently taken in Berndt's classroom. The teacher frequently kept his door locked, which was against school policy, but not an uncommon practice among teachers who want to limit interruptions.
The alleged victims, photographed one at a time, apparently included his current and former students and possibly some he'd never taught. Berndt allegedly put the substance around the mouth of a child and asked the child to lick it off his or her lips.
"The students shared that they didn't like the taste of it," in the case of the liquid they described as salty, said the district insider.
District officials said they have no record of any child, parent or staff member ever complaining about Berndt or raising a concern.
Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy offered a swift condemnation Tuesday of Berndt.
"I find it disgusting, I find it reprehensible," Deasy told The Times. "I hope this man spends the rest of his life in prison."
Deasy said Berndt was removed from the classroom immediately after the district was notified of the allegations and he was fired by the school board at its next meeting.
The cache of 400 photos being reviewed by authorities includes head shots or pictures of smiling children and other more disturbing images of children gagged or blindfolded or both, according to sources who have seen them.
All of the children were fully clothed in the pictures. Some included disturbing images of children with a spoon near their faces; in the spoon was a milky liquid.
Sgt. Dan Scott of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said the photos were perplexing because the children were smiling and appeared not to be in distress. Detectives went to his classroom, where they found a spoon in a trash bin that matched a spoon seen in the images.
They tested a substance on the spoon and found semen containing DNA that matches the teacher's, Scott said.
"We didn't have a felony until the semen was discovered," Scott said.
-- Howard Blume and Richard Winton
Photo: Mark Berndt Credit: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department