LAUSD to pay Miramonte victims $30 million; teacher due in court
Now that the Los Angeles Unified School District has agreed to a $30-million settlement in the Miramonte Elementary School case, the teacher accused of lewd acts against dozens of children is set to appear in court next month.
Mark Berndt, 61, faces 23 felony counts of lewd conduct involving the alleged spoon-feeding of semen to students that were blindfolded and the placement of cockroaches on their faces.
Berndt has been in custody since his arrest in February 2012 and is being held in lieu of $23 million bail. Detectives had been investigating the alleged abuse for more than a year after a drugstore photo processor showed police disturbing images of blindfolded and gagged children being spoon-fed a liquid.
The alleged victims were boys and girls between 7 and 10 years old. Berndt had been teaching in the district since 1979 and was respected by parents of former students. Nearly 200 legal claims have been filed against the Los Angeles Unified School District by parents in the wake of Berndt’s arrest.
On Tuesday, lawyers representing parents in 58 of those claims announced a $30-million settlement with LAUSD. The mediation lasted about six months and involved more than a dozen law firms.
Attorneys said they wanted to spare children painful litigation and testimony.
The settlements are the first in a case that rocked the nation's second-largest school system and prompted a flurry of new policies to better protect students. Each of the alleged victims will receive about $470,000 under the preliminary deal. It is the largest payout in a case involving a single teacher in the district.
The pact, which must still be approved by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, covers about half of the those identified as victims at the school. Lawyers for many of the others have sued, contending that the district did not protect children from the veteran teacher.
The claims accuse the district of not doing enough to protect students from Berndt even after fielding complaints about inappropriate conduct at the school, located in the Florence-Firestone area. He was the target of a police investigation in 1993 involving claims by a female student that he tried to fondle her, but the case was dropped after investigators determined there was insufficient evidence.
But after Berndt's arrest, L.A. Schools Supt. John Deasy said a sweeping internal investigation turned up no record of that charge or other documents involving past incidents or suspicions about the teacher.
-- Stephen Ceasar, Richard Winton and Teresa Watanabe