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'Culture of silence' probed at school rocked by sex-abuse scandal

February 7, 2012 |  9:30 am
L.A. school officials are hoping their decision to temporarily replace the entire staff of an elementary school where two teachers have been accused of lewd acts against students will help quell growing anger by parents

Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. John Deasy said he hopes investigations into a school where two teachers have been accused of abusing students can explain a "culture of silence ... where someone could have known something and then chose not to act."

Deasy made the comments after announcing that he was temporarily replacing the entire staff at Miramonte Elementary School.

"How is it conceivably possible that this could take place ... and [administrators] didn't know or say anything is what I'm trying to understand," he said. "And of course, I recognize that I'm trying to do it from a very far distance."

PHOTOS: Sex abuse charges spark parent uproar

He announced the changes at a parents meeting Monday night. The meeting was tense at times, with some parents chanting aloud and accusing the school system of failing to protect their children.

Some parents said they were alarmed by reports that students had complained about one of the accused teachers several times in the last two decades.

"My trust level is at zero," Cassini Quarles, the mother of a third-grader, said outside the meeting, which was held at a nearby high school.

FULL COVERAGE: Miramonte sex-abuse investigation

The district also made the controversial decision to not allow news reporters inside the meeting.

That decision led to cries of "Cover-up!" from parents. Some shouted "No press, no justice!" while journalists clashed with school police officers. One officer slammed a door on the lens of a reporter's video camera as the reporter protested, invoking his 1st Amendment rights.

Despite the chaos and criticism, Deasy stood firmly behind the decision to exclude the media at a news conference later.

“Parents were so angry, and so disrespected that they learned the information first through the media, and I wasn’t going to disrespect them a second time," he said.

Deasy added that it was his “fundamental obligation” to communicate directly with parents. “They’re my parents and I have a right to speak to my parents privately any single time I choose,” he said.

The staffing shake-up marks a bid to rebuild quickly eroding community confidence as detectives and school officials continue their investigations. More than a quarter of the students enrolled at Miramonte were kept home by their parents Monday.

But Monday night, some parents applauded the removal of the school's staff as a good first step. Officials stressed that no other educators at the school were under suspicion, but they said a bold act was needed to help remove the cloud over Miramonte.

The school has 150 teachers and administrators and about 1,500 students. The move could be temporary. Many, and perhaps all, of the current staff will be returned to the school eventually, officials said. In the interim, their places will be filled by teachers and other workers already on a rehiring list.

The Miramonte staff will continue to be paid and for the time being will move to a nearby campus under construction, officials said. Miramonte is closed Tuesday and Wednesday during the transition.

Officials plan to have the new teachers and administrators in place by Thursday. When students return, each will be interviewed and a psychiatric social worker will be present in every classroom, Deasy said.

RELATED:

L.A. school to be closed for two days for sex-abuse investigation

Attendance drops at school where 2 teachers are suspected of abuse

Officials trying to "restore calm" at school where teachers were arrested

--  Sam Allen

Photo: LAPD officers stand guard Monday at Miramonte Elementary School. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

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