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Miramonte parents file suit related to children's alleged abuse

July 10, 2012 | 11:54 am

Fourteen mothers of Miramonte Elementary students alleged in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that they, too, are victims of a teacher who has been charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct against students.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, is a follow-up to litigation filed in May on behalf of 20 children of these parents. Much like the students, the mothers “have suffered emotional distress, including shock, nervousness, anxiety, worry, humiliation and embarrassment,” according to the complaint.

“The moms want justice,” said attorney Luis Carrillo. “They want counseling and therapy for their kids. And because of the nature of the emotional injury of the moms, they also have a need for therapy and counseling due to their own emotional distress.”

PHOTOS: Sex abuse scandal at Miramonte Elementary

Former teacher Mark Berndt, 61, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Authorities suspect him of feeding cookies tainted with his semen to students, spoonfeeding semen to them and putting roaches on their faces, sometimes when they were blind-folded as part of what Berndt allegedly described as a game. An investigation began when a drugstore clerk alerted authorities to bizarre photos of children that Berndt allegedly had taken to be developed.

Berndt was arrested Jan. 30 after a lengthy investigation.

The litigation is on behalf of families whose children Berndt taught or worked with after school from 2002 through 2011. Named as defendants in the suit are former Miramonte principals Marc Sandoval and Richard Lopez and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

A spokesman for L.A. Unified stressed district efforts since Berndt's arrest and good intentions moving forward.

“The District is committed to working with the Miramonte community and everyone impacted by these incidents to improve trust and promote healing,” said general counsel David Holmquist. “While the district has yet to receive the latest complaint, we are continuing our efforts to ensure that we are doing everything possible to provide a safe learning and working environment for our students and staff.”

The suit claims that L.A. Unified is liable for damages because it had notice of significant issues involving Berndt in the early 1990s, when he was twice accused of inappropriate conduct around children. Investigations at the time did not result in charges being filed. The suit also recounts a parent’s 2008 complaint about Berndt taking pictures of students as well as misconduct by other Miramonte staff members that, the suit contends, should have resulted in better procedures for protecting students from predatory adults.

 “It’s an enormous tragedy that should have never happened if the school district had been doing its job,” said Carrillo.

All told, at least 31 students have sued L.A. Unified over the alleged actions of Berndt.

Shortly after Berndt's arrest, deputies also took a second teacher, Martin Springer, into custody on unrelated lewd-conduct allegations. He too has pleaded not guilty.

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-- Howard Blume

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