Love letter allegedly from teacher's aide: Boy gave her 'chills'
In June 2009, the mother of a then-fourth-grader found a drawing, signed "Sad Girl," that had fallen from its perch in her son's room. Also dislodged was a cellphone number for a "Mrs. Luisjuan" from a corner of the frame. When she confronted her son, he showed her two letters.
One of the letters was a short-term farewell note that included a passage the mother found especially disturbing: "Oh! I didn't tell you that I like when you put your arm around my shoulder," wrote the teacher's aide, who has been identified as Areceli Luisjuan. "And if I told you not to do that it's because I don't want to put you in trouble, but I like it. ... "
The episode has become the subject of a law enforcement inquiry and an internal review by the Los Angeles Unified School District. According to the mother, however, sheriff's deputies and the school system failed to take her seriously the first time she brought the matter to their attention.
Berndt, 61, faces 23 counts of lewd conduct charges for, among other things, allegedly taking pictures of students who were being spoon-fed his semen as part of what he called a "tasting game."
After Berndt's arrest, allegations emerged against a second teacher, Martin Bernard Springer, 49, who was charged Tuesday with fondling a 7-year-old girl in his class.
The Berndt case in particular has raised questions about whether the school properly handled misconduct issues in the past.
In the letter found by the fourth-grader's mother, the writer said, "When you get close to me, even if you give me the chills I like that. Don't tell nobody about this!" (The word "chills" is underlined.)
At the bottom of the letter, which is written in English, the author penned the student's name four times, signed it "Sad Girl" and then added: "Read the letter and throw it away. I don't want your mom or brother to find it."
The mother, whose name is not being released to protect the identity of her son, a minor, said she believes there were about three letters, although she only had one to show to a reporter.
The crying picture, she later learned, was prompted by Luisjuan's pending relocation to a nearby middle school. The transfer apparently was planned before the mother complained, she said.
Efforts to reach Luisjuan were unsuccessful.
The mother, who said the aide appeared to be in her 50s, immediately went to see her son's teacher. But the teacher told the mother that she could get into trouble for making up stories.
Meanwhile, in an incident with Berndt, children who reported that he appeared to be masturbating behind his desk reportedly were told the same thing, a former Miramonte student said.
The mother in the latest case said she was struck by the similarities.
"When the mother abuses her kid and they find out at school they throw all the authorities at you," she said Tuesday. "But what happens when it's the other way around? I couldn't do anything."
She said she next went to the Sheriff's Department, which directed her to return to the school to handle the matter.
At a second meeting, those present included the mother, her son, the teacher, Luisjuan and an assistant principal.
According to the mother, Luisjuan admitted writing letters and drawing the picture. Luisjuan compared her affection to that of a grandmother for a grandson, the mother said. The mother was sent home, but not before she insisted on a written record of the meeting, which she kept.
"Why would they pay attention to me?" the mother said. "I'm a single mother and Mexican."
The aide delivered the final letter, the one quoted above, on the same day as the meeting, June 23, 2009. She also allegedly gave the boy a gift: a crystal, heart-shaped bowl full of candy.
An L.A. Unified spokeswoman, when asked in 2009 about the incident, said that Luisjuan no longer worked for the school system.
-- Dalina Castellanos and Howard Blume
Photo: Excerpt from a letter written by a Miramonte techer's aide. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times.