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Ex-LAUSD teacher pleads no contest to molestation of 13 students

Paul ChapelA former Telfair Elementary teacher pleaded no contest Monday to molesting 13 former students and faces 25 years to life in prison, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said.

As his preliminary hearing was slated to begin, Paul Chapel, 51, pleaded no contest to 13 counts of a lewd act on a child before San Fernando Superior Court Judge Lloyd Nash.

The molestations involved children as young as 8 between September 2006 and April 2011. He was charged last year with molesting four students but that did not become public until early this year. He was subsequently charged with molesting nine additional former students.

Chapel had continued to work in the L.A. Unified School District despite several red flags in his history. He was tried but not convicted in a 1997 alleged molestation and had previously left a private school after allegedly making inappropriate remarks during a sex education class.

Chapel was most recently a third-grade teacher at Telfair in Pacoima, but parents were not informed of his alleged conduct with students who were either in his class or in nearby classrooms until this year, several months after his arrest. 

His case shares key similarities with that of former Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt, whose arrest triggered intense scrutiny over the school district's handling of sexual misconduct allegations against employees. Berndt allegedly spoon-fed his semen to blindfolded students as part of what he described as a "tasting game."

Berndt's personnel files contained no records of earlier, unrelated sexual misconduct allegations, which were never proved. Chapel's records also are incomplete, as was the school district's response after the 1997 allegations. L.A. Unified has no record that it ever conducted an internal investigation.

District officials said the reason may be that the incident occurred off-campus. Without a criminal conviction, the district did not automatically examine matters that took place off school grounds. In the 1997 incident, Chapel was accused of molesting an 8-year-old neighbor who was sleeping at his house with Chapel's son, who was about the same age.

Chapel was accused of assaulting the boy as he slept, but the boy broke free and ran home. According to L.A. Unified records, the day after Chapel was arrested, the district alerted the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which suspended Chapel's credential. The school district suspended Chapel without pay from Andasol Avenue Elementary in Northridge, where he had worked for about a decade. The molestation case went to trial, but a jury failed to reach a verdict because of the lack of physical evidence. It was Chapel's word against the child's, said an attorney involved in the case.

Prosecutors opted not to retry the case. L.A. Unified records indicate that criminal charges were dismissed Aug. 24, 1998. By Sept. 15, the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing had reinstated Chapel's credential and he returned to work — with back pay — at Telfair.

Two former Telfair students have filed a lawsuit against L.A. Unified, citing Chapel's history and alleging that he touched them inappropriately. They allege that the district failed to protect them.

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-- Richard Winton

Photo: Paul Chapel. Credit: Los Angeles Unified School District

 
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