Teacher accused of lewd acts: Parents angry over lack of answers
More than 200 parents packed an auditorium at Miramonte Elementary School on Wednesday for an emotional meeting with school officials and sheriff's detectives to discuss the arrest of a longtime teacher for lewd acts with 23 children.
Several parents emerged angry from the early morning meeting. Quite a few were upset at the school's handling of the accusations and believed they should have known earlier about the allegations against teacher Mark Berndt, 61.
Others wanted to know whether their children appeared in photos taken by the teacher, which show students with tape over their mouths, with cockroaches on their faces or with a spoon containing a milky liquid near their faces.
Sheriff's detectives have identified 23 victims and several other students who are considered witnesses. Law enforcement officials at the meeting asked parents who raised concerns to bring photos of their children to detectives with their names, phone numbers and ages.
"It's just getting everybody more upset," said Guille Catanon, whose 8-year-old daughter attends Miramonte. "Parents want to know who the kids are. It's scary because he's been here for such a long time."
Another parent, who gave only her first name, Eva, said she thought law enforcement and school officials should reach out to those parents whose students were in Berndt's classes in the last few years.
Sgt. Dan Scott, of the Sheriff's Department's Special Victims Unit, said detectives were simply trying to find a way to address concerned parents without showing them the photos, which would compromise the identity of victims.
"It was spur of the moment," Scott said. "We're trying to facilitate their requests."
Daniel Ochoa left the meeting looking shaken. His wife had stayed behind to give sheriff's detectives a photo of their daughter, now 9 years old, who was a student of Berndt's last year, he said.
He had believed Berndt to be a good teacher, but he couldn't stop thinking about the candies his daughter said Berndt gave students every Friday.
"As a father, I feel terrible because it's too late to do anything now," he said. "As parents, we should have been more involved."
-- Paloma Esquivel at Miramonte Elementary School
Photos: Students and parents leave Miramonte Elementary School on Tuesday. Credit: Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press