Sex-abuse claims at L.A. school: Parents applaud two-day closing
Parents of Miramonte Elementary students applauded the Los Angeles Unified School District's decision to close the school for two days this week as the campus reels from allegations that two teachers engaged in lewd conduct with students.
But Miramonte parent Graciela Garcia said she wasn't satisfied. “The school should be closed, but not just for two days,” she said, demanding that all the school’s teachers be investigated.
The district said the school would be closed to students Tuesday and Wednesday. It was open as usual Monday, and a number of parents went to the campus to protest the district's handling of situation.
Teacher Mark Berndt has been accused of feeding his students his semen, blindfolding them and placing cockroaches on their hands and faces. Berndt was put on leave a year ago and subsequently fired. He was arrested Jan. 30.
Teacher Martin Bernard Springer was accused of allegedly fondling students. He was ordered out of his classroom Thursday morning and was arrested Friday.
Garcia's children, who are in first, seventh and ninth grades, all once attended Miramonte; her youngest transferred from Miramonte to a new neighborhood school last year.
Garcia recalled that one of her nephews, who was in Berndt’s class at the time, once brought home a picture of himself being blindfolded. The nephew also took insects to class, knowing Berndt liked them, she said.
Beatrice Diaz, 26, missed work Monday from her job as a property manager to keep her second-grade son out of class. Springer was her son’s teacher. Diaz said she was upset that she had to find out on the news Friday that her son’s teacher had been arrested.
“It was a surprise. You trust the people that take care of your kids when they are in school. It’s unbelievable,” Diaz said. “My son is saying, 'My teacher is on TV.' How do you explain that to your kid?”
Arianna Perez, 30, mother of two Miramonte students, a second-grader and a fifth-grader, decided not to keep them out of school Monday.
"My kids are scared," she said. "They’re coming to me and saying, ‘Mommy, I’m scared.’ They’re scared to be in school."
Marlene Manrriquez, 21, said her 3-year-old attends a program at the school to help with his speech development. Referring to the two-day school closure, she said, "I think it's good so they can investigate and see what's really going on."
She said if her son was ever abused, she might not know it right away.
"He can't talk," Manrriquez said. "That would be a big issue."
The neighborhood surrounding Miramonte Elementary is one of the poorest in L.A. County, peppered with used tire shops, tiny carnicerias decorated with images of Jesus and billboards advertising dentists who will yank a bad tooth for $49.
The names of some nearby streets are known best because they have been appropriated by gangs -- Avalon Boulevard, Compton Avenue. Miramonte has struggled academically and is one of the last campuses in the school district to operate year-round because of overcrowding.
But it had been seen by many in the neighborhood as a refuge -- even with gang graffiti covering the walls of an alley next to the tetherball courts. The Miramonte Elementary website says the school teaches about 1,400 students, of which 98% are Latino and 2% are black.
About 56% of Miramonte students are English language learners, and virtually everyone receives free or reduced price meals under the federal school lunch program.
--- Angel Jennings at Miramonte Elementary School
Photo: Los Angeles police officers stand in front of Miramonte Elementary School on Monday. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times