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Attorney calls for protection of parents in school abuse case

February 9, 2012 |  2:36 pm

 A local immigrant rights group has called on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to provide protections for undocumented parents whose children were allegedly victimized in the Miramonte Elementary School teacher abuse scandal.

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles asked for the sheriff to assure the parents that their immigration status will not be affected if they go to authorities with claims of abuse.

“Families are not speaking up because they are scared of being deported,” attorney Jessica Dominguez said at a news conference Thursday morning.

Dominguez also urged Sheriff Lee Baca to assign a detective to the case “who is very familiar with certifications of U-Visas.” If approved, these documents give victims legal status for up to four years.

The news conference also featured a father of a Miramonte student allegedly abused by teacher Mark Berndt. The father, who was identified only by his first name, Raymundo, said he did not go to authorities initially because he was afraid of being deported.

Dominguez and another attorney, Gregory Owen, said they are representing eight victims from the school and have already filed three claims against the Los Angeles Unified School District for negligence.

The lawyers also distributed photos Berndt allegedly took of their clients along with pictures where he posed with them, and photocopies of notes he wrote them.

“These kids are severely damaged,” Owen said. “They’re going to need care for the rest of their lives.”

Angelica Salas, CHIRLA’s executive director, said the organization would help defend any of the parents involved in the case.

“Like many Angelenos, we have witnessed the horrible details of what happened at Miramonte unfold from afar,” Salas said. “We are here to offer support for these families and let them know that CHIRLA and many other Latino and civil rights organizations will work arduously to ensure that there is sensitivity on the issues of immigration status throughout this investigation.”

Berndt has been charged with nearly two dozen lewd conduct counts against children, and another teacher, Martin Bernard Springer, has been charged with three counts. The cases are unrelated.


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-- Sam Allen