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Latino kids disproportionately victimized by teachers, lawyer says

January 28, 2013 |  2:44 pm

Martha Escutia
A former state senator called Monday for an investigation into what she said was a disproportionately large number of Latino students believed to have been victimized by teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Martha Escutia, now an attorney working for a law firm that represents families suing the district over teacher sexual misconduct, called for an independent investigation as she appeared at a news conference with a handful of parents in front of George de la Torre Elementary School in Wilmington.

Last week, a former de la Torre teacher, Robert Pimentel, 57, was arrested on suspicion of molesting 12 students at the school. Pimentel has pleaded not guilty.

“I just want accountability and transparency,” Escutia said. “Their silence is deafening,” she added, referring to district officials.

District officials defended their intentions and recent actions regarding misconduct but didn't directly address Escutia’s accusation that Latinos were, in effect, allowed to be targeted.

“Every child we serve is important, and we would never willfully place students in harm’s way,” said district general counsel David Holmquist. “We are consistently working to strengthen student safety, including implementing numerous policy changes and supporting meaningful statewide legislative reforms.”

The idea that Latinos have been more exposed to risk because of negligence or willful action has circulated for some time. It’s been documented that some teachers and principals have moved from school to school, causing problems in more than one place. Some advocates for children say such transfers would never have been tolerated in more affluent communities.

District officials say repeated transfers of employees with poor performance or questionable behavior are a thing of the past. They point to newly adopted policies, district participation in a state audit and the launch of an investigative commission led by retired California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno.

The case attracting the most attention has been that of former Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt, 62, who faces 23 counts of lewd conduct for allegedly spoon-feeding semen to blindfolded students and taking bizarre photos of them. Berndt, who has pleaded not guilty, spent his entire teaching career at Miramonte.

Pimentel taught at schools in South Los Angeles, Carson and Wilmington. In Carson and Wilmington, he worked for principal Irene Hinojosa. According to L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, Hinojosa received allegations that Pimentel had touched students inappropriately but she didn't report those allegations to police.

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-- Dalina Castellanos and Howard Blume

Photo: Former state Sen. Martha Escutia at a news conference Monday in front of George De La Torre Jr. Elementary School in Wilmington. Photo: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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