New litigation related to alleged lewd conduct at Miramonte
Attorneys filed four more lawsuits this week in connection with lewd-conduct charges against a former teacher at Miramonte Elementary School.
The litigation, filed Monday by the firm Manly & Stewart, accuses the Los Angeles Unified School District of negligence, fraud, sexual harassment, gender violence and infliction of emotional distress for failing to protect students from veteran instructor Mark Berndt.
Berndt, 61, taught one of the students for two years and supervised the others after school, according to the lawsuits. In these cases and others, he’s accused of spoon-feeding his semen to blind-folded children as part of what he allegedly called a tasting game. He’s also accused of putting cockroaches on children's faces and feeding them semen-tainted cookies.
Authorities began investigating Berndt after a drugstore clerk gave police bizarre photos of students taking part in these acts.
Attorney John Manly said Tuesday that he sued on behalf of four students because “over 100 children allege they were victimized by this man, and there’s no credible explanation of how this happened."
"The only people who have investigated the school district is the school district,” he added.
Manly accused L.A. Unified of trying to withhold information that is embarrassing or that could increase its liability. The attorney scheduled a Wednesday morning news conference to discuss the litigation.
District officials have defended their response. They said they have provided counseling and help for affected families, cooperated fully with law enforcement and acted quickly and comprehensively to address shortcomings in their response to allegations. The district also replaced the entire staff of the school, located in Florence-Firestone, for the second half of the 2011-12 school year.
Berndt was arrested in January but removed from the school a year earlier.
Last week, officials said that 126 students and 63 parents have filed Miramonte-related claims for damages against L.A. Unified. There also are two other lawsuits on behalf of 33 students and one on behalf of 11 parents.
Berndt faces 23 counts of lewd conduct and is being held in lieu of $23-million bail. He has pleaded not guilty.
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-- Howard Blume
Photo: Students are escorted out of Miramonte Elementary School in January, a day after teacher Mark Berndt was arrested on charges of lewd conduct with children. Credit: Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press