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Miramonte teachers removed from school to break silence

May 3, 2012 |  6:00 am

Miramonte Elementary School

Teachers from Miramonte Elementary School, who were removed from work in a wide-ranging lewd-conduct investigation, will release anonymous statements on Thursday about their ordeal.

The statements will be read during an afternoon rally outside Augustus Hawkins High School, an unopened campus where the Miramonte teachers have reported to work since early February. Some Miramonte teachers may take part in the reading of the statements, said Ingrid Villeda, the south area chair for the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles.

The rally begins at 3:30 p.m., said UTLA spokeswoman Marla Eby.

The entire Miramonte staff -- teachers and other employees -- were displaced a week after the arrest in January of former teacher Mark Berndt. He has pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of lewd conduct, allegedly with students. Days later, a second teacher, Martin Springer, was arrested on unrelated lewd conduct charges. He also has pleaded not guilty.

Word of the rally was first reported Wednesday on the website of KPCC-FM (89.3).

The removal of an entire staff in the wake of a criminal investigation was unprecedented, observers said. L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy said he made the move as a gesture to restore public confidence. He said he also wanted to minimize any disruption either to the ongoing investigation or to instruction at Miramonte.

The staff change occurred while the school was closed for two days. When the school reopened, the union held a rally accusing officials of reneging on their pledge to return the Miramonte teachers as soon as possible. The union also wanted more assurances that the temporary removal would not look like a disciplinary transfer on a teacher’s permanent employment record.

Deasy insisted his action was not intended to cast doubt on the fitness of any Miramonte teacher.

The Miramonte teachers have been notably silent during their exile at Hawkins, a newly constructed campus that is scheduled to open for students next fall. The district declined to make the teachers available for interviews. And the union also urged them not to speak publicly -- out of concern, union leaders said, that the teachers could face potential retaliation if they spoke out.

It was no secret, however, that many Miramonte teachers were distressed or angered or both about what happened to them. Several said as much during some union meetings.

Replacing the Miramonte teachers and other measures, such as placing a counselor in every classroom, is  expected to cost the school system $5.7 million.

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-- Howard Blume

Photo: Los Angeles police officers stand in front of Miramonte Elementary School in February as dozens of parents demonstrate in front of the school. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

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