Attendance drops at school where 2 teachers are suspected of abuse
Attendance dipped sharply Monday at Miramonte Elementary School for the first time since a current and a former teacher were charged last week with lewd conduct involving students at the campus.
About 73% of enrolled students were in class Monday, well below typical figures of more than 95%, according to the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The drop occurred amid increasing parent anger about the implicated teachers and the school’s handling of current and past allegations.
Mark Berndt, 61, faces 23 counts of lewd conduct for such acts as allegedly spoon-feeding his semen to blindfolded children as part of what he called a “tasting game.” He was removed from contact with students last year, resigned several months later and was arrested last Monday.
Martin Bernard Springer, 49, also is charged with lewd conduct for allegedly fondling two 7-year-olds in his class. He was ordered off campus last Thursday and arrested the next day.
The cases of the two teachers are not thought to be related, investigators said, although the teachers did know each other. And one alleged victim was transferred from Berndt’s class to Springer’s after the family complained about Berndt. Investigators say the child may have been a victim of both teachers.
News of Berndt’s arrest broke a week ago, but the sensational and disturbing allegations seemed to have little immediate effect on whether parents continued to send their children to the school. Attendance was 97% on Tuesday (the day after the first arrest), 98% Wednesday, and 95% both Thursday and Friday.
The Monday figure of 73% was a sharp decline, which is costly for a school and the school district, which receive funding based on students in attendance.
The alleged lewd conduct is likely to be expensive in other ways as well. Attorneys representing Miramonte families said Monday they intend to file claims for damages against the nation’s second-largest school system.
School is canceled for Tuesday and Wednesday at Miramonte to allow for “staff meetings,” according to L.A. Unified. The school district could lose more than $100,000 in funding as a result, unless the state grants a waiver or the school makes up the lost time.
-- Howard Blume