Miramonte teachers speak at rally
More than 200 parents, students and former Miramonte teachers gathered in South Los Angeles on Thursday to call for the immediate reinstatement of the school’s staff, which was removed in its entirety from the campus in early February, a week after the arrest of former teacher Mark Berndt on 23 counts of lewd conduct.
Thursday’s rally marked the first time that the teachers spoke publicly.
"We just really want to go back to our students," said one teacher in a interview. Like many others, she declined to be identified.
"We never got to say goodbye," she said. "We’re teachers, and we want to teach our kids. It’s been hard, and we’re trying to heal."
Said another teacher: “To our students, we love you and miss you.”
Since leaving Miramonte, southeast of downtown, the teachers have reported to work at nearby Augustus Hawkins High School, a new campus that has not opened. The district has not allowed access to teachers during work hours, and teachers -- following the advice of their union -- declined to be interviewed at other times.
But Thursday, teachers were ready to break their silence. Most have received word that they are cleared to return to a campus with students as of July 1.
"For so many of us, we are defined by our profession," one teacher said. "I have a good reputation, and I always was judged on my own merit. Because of the actions of one individual, it seems like all of that has been diminished.
"I’m used to teaching children," she said. "That was my calling and that’s what I want to do."
A couple of teachers said that they have used their time at Hawkins to improve their craft and that the school district has provided valuable training. They also conceded that sometimes it was hard to focus with so many worries about their future.
According to the teachers' contract, parties to a grievance are limited in what they can say publicly.
L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy has spoken about the matter many times, saying he moved the Miramonte teachers to restore public confidence and to avoid frequent disruptions to student learning on campus as police and internal investigations proceeded.
His decision prompted a wide range of reactions, from praise to denunciation.
The accused teacher, Berndt, has pleaded not guilty. Also arrested, days later, was Martin Springer, for unrelated alleged lewd conduct. He also has pleaded not guilty.
At moments, Thursday’s rally became a union call to arms. Speakers criticized L.A. Unified and state lawmakers for taking advantage of events at Miramonte to push for new laws that would weaken important job protections for teachers.
They also said Deasy was overreaching within L.A. Unified, ordering his administrators to act too quickly against some teachers accused of wrongdoing or to impose needlessly harsh punishments for minor infractions.
Deasy has defended his actions as putting the interests and safety of students first.
-- Howard Blume
Photo: A teacher, right, comforts fourth-grader Stacy Arroyo, 10, as teachers, students and parents from Miramonte Elementary School rally outside Augustus Hawkins High School. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times