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Ex-L.A. Unified teacher gets 25 years for molesting 13 students

September 20, 2012 | 10:27 am

Paul ChapelA former teacher at a Pacoima elementary school who continued to work in Los Angeles Unified schools despite several red flags was sentenced Thursday to 25 years in prison after admitting to molesting 13 students.

Deputy Dist. Atty Elena Abramson said none of Paul Chapel’s young victims appeared in the San Fernando courtroom. But three family members addressed Judge Lloyd Nash before he sentenced the 51-year-old former Telfair Elementary third-grade teacher.

Chapel pleaded no contest last month to 13 counts of lewd acts on a child. The children were between the ages of 8 and 9.

He was initially charged in October 2011 with molesting four children, and in May prosecutors filled additional charges involving nine children.

Chapel had continued to work in the L.A. Unified School District despite several red flags in his past. 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 at Telfair in Pacoima, but parents were not informed of his alleged past conduct.

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.

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 did not reach a verdict and prosecutors opted not to retry the case.

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-- Richard Winton

Follow Richard Winton (@LACrimes) on Twitter and Google+

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

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