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L.A. school board considers faster firings for sexual misconduct

March 13, 2012 |  6:15 am

L.A. school board members announce resolutions addressing the way the LAUSD handles sexual abuse allegations.
The Los Angeles Board of Education is scheduled to vote Tuesday on proposals that could make it easier to fire employees accused of misconduct and to inform parents about them. But some of the board's plans would need the approval of the state Legislature or voters.

The proposals, by board President Moncia Garcia and board members Tamar Galatzan and Nury Martinez, were prompted by the attention focused on sexual misconduct after the January arrest of former teacher Mark Berndt, who worked at Miramonte Elementary School in Florence-Firestone. He is accused of photographing students blindfolded and being spoon-fed his semen as part of what he allegedly called a “tasting game.” Berndt has pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of lewd conduct.

Berndt was able to resign and negotiate a settlement of $40,000 for back pay and health insurance costs after the school board voted to fire him. He also receives a state pension of nearly of nearly $4,000 a month as well as lifetime health benefits from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

On Tuesday, the board is expected to vote on a proposal that would require a change to state law to strip pension and benefits from a school employee convicted of the sexual abuse of a minor, even if the employee resigns prior to formal dismissal. It also seeks changes in state law that would give the Board of Education final authority for dismissing teachers. That power currently rests with an independent hearing panel consisting of two teachers and an administrative law judge. The state Legislature or the state’s voters would have to approve such changes to the law.

The second board resolution relates to fallout from parent anger over not being notified about problem instructors. Parents at Telfair Elementary in Pacoima were not told for months that teacher Paul Chapel had been jailed for the alleged molestation of several students.

This motion does not rely on revising state law. Instead, it calls on L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy to come up with rules on what to tell parents when a teacher is arrested, under investigation or simply pulled suddenly from a classroom because of a misconduct allegation.

It also would make some of Deasy’s recent initiatives part of approved board policy. One provision backs his effort to keep indefinitely all records of allegations of sexual or physical abuse. It also would authorize his plan to create a centralized, confidential database of allegations of sexual or physical abuse and harassment that are made against employees.

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-- Howard Blume

Photo: LAUSD board members Tamar Galatzan, left, and Nury Martinez, on Monday announce proposals that would bring changes to the way the L.A. Unified School District handles child sexual-abuse allegations. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

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