Audit faults LAUSD for not reporting charges of sexual misconduct
California auditors have concluded that Los Angeles school officials have been slow to act on some allegations of employee sexual misconduct and often failed to notify the state agency that oversees the credentials of teachers -- a notification required by law.
The review, released Thursday, was conducted by the California state auditor at the behest of the Legislature’s audit committee. It was commissioned in response to fallout from the arrest of a veteran Miramonte Elementary School teacher on 23 counts of lewd conduct.
Authorities suspect Mark Berndt, 61, of feeding cookies tainted with his semen to students, among other wrongdoing. Previous alleged questionable behavior by Berndt had not resulted in any discipline prior to his arrest.
Berndt, who is being held in lieu of $23 million bail, has pleaded not guilty.
L.A. Unified did not "properly notify" the state’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing "when required to do so, such as when an employee with a certificate to teach is dismissed while an allegation of misconduct is pending," the auditors wrote. The review “found that the district failed to report as required at least 144 cases — including cases involving employee misconduct against students — submitted a year or more late when the district finally did report them.”
Of these cases, “31 were more than three years late when they were reported to the commission. As a result of the delays in reporting these cases, the commission was not able to determine promptly whether it was appropriate to revoke the teachers’ certificates and thus prevent the individuals from working in other school districts,” auditors asserted.
In the wake of Berndt’s arrest, the nation’s second-largest school system reviewed old files for evidence of other potential problem employees, submitted old and new records to state regulators, and pledged to inform parents within 72 hours when an employee is removed from a school during an investigation into sexual misconduct.
The audit “captured accurately what the district has done in terms of improvement and where the district was,” L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy said Thursday. He said he was “thankful and appreciative for the honesty and accuracy” of the audit.
The audit also called for changes in state law to streamline the firing of teachers for gross misconduct. L.A. Unified has lobbied for such legislation.
The president of the teachers union said Thursday he shares the district’s goal of making student safety paramount, but he criticized the district for past shortcomings in protecting students and for what he said was some overreaction to the Miramonte episode. This included, he said, the removal of the entire staff at Miramonte from February through the end of the school year.
“The district’s response has been characterized by wild swings, between previous administrative failures of supervision, followed by extreme overreaction, such as the removal of 85 innocent teachers from Miramonte, for over six months,” said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.
”Every time the district overreacts it diverts resources that should have been used to investigate serious misconduct,” Fletcher added.
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-- Howard Blume