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Commission faults L.A. Unified for lack of warning about Berndt

February 17, 2012 |  1:31 pm

The state teacher credentialing commission has criticized the Los Angeles Unified School District for failing to notify it of teachers suspected of serious misconduct, saying the “failure to file these mandatory reports … poses a potential risk to student safety.”

The criticism comes in a Feb. 15 letter addressed to L.A schools Supt. John Deasy and apparently arises from the case of former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, who is charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct. Investigators allege that Berndt spoon-fed his semen to blindfolded children as part of what he called a “tasting game.”

L.A. Unified acknowledged Friday that it failed to properly notify the Sacramento-based California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. The commission oversees the certifications that allow individuals to teach in California. If the commission isn’t notified of a problem, then a teacher will retain an active credential and remain eligible for employment by any school system in the state.

Berndt was pulled from class in January 2011, and the L.A. Board of Education voted to fire him the next month. He was contesting his dismissal when he agreed to retire in June 2011 in exchange for a $40,000 settlement.

The vote to fire Berndt and his later resignation under pressure should have been reported to the commission within 30 days, according to state law.

“The failure to timely notify the CTC in this case is contrary to standard district practice,” the L.A. schools superintendent said. “I have immediately launched an internal investigation to determine the reasons for the untimely notice in this case.”

District spokesman Thomas Waldman initially suggested that L.A. Unified had delayed notification to avoid interfering with the law-enforcement investigation but said on Friday that his comment was premature. Waldman had responded to questions from KPCC, which reported the issue first on its website.

L.A. Unified notified the commission on Jan. 31, 2012, the day after Berndt’s arrest.
In the interim, Berndt was unlikely to be hired by another district, in large measure because he was under law-enforcement surveillance.

Deasy also said Friday that L.A. Unified has yet to receive a copy of the commission’s letter. A commission staffer said the letter was faxed to L.A. Unified the day before it was released to the media.

Deasy, who became superintendent last year, added that he wanted to know from the commission of anything else the school system handled improperly.

“If they’ve been sitting on knowledge that there are other cases, I would like to know what they are and I welcome that notification,” Deasy said.

"Our attorneys feel the letter speaks for itself and we have no further comment on it," said commission spokeswoman Erin Sullivan.

Under commission rules, a district superintendent is responsible for updating the status of teachers. In L.A. Unified, the nation’s second-largest school system, that function is handled by a branch of the human resources department.

-- Howard Blume