Published February 10, 2012
| Associated Press
LOS ANGELES – The former third-grade teacher charged with committing lewd acts on students was paid $40,000 to drop an appeal of his firing, a newspaper reported Friday.
The Los Angeles Unified School District settled with Mark Berndt because it couldn't defend his February 2011 firing, district general counsel David Holmquist told the Los Angeles Times.
Berndt was removed from the classroom in January 2011 and dismissed as the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department was investigating him. He appealed but resigned in June after the district agreed to pay him four months of back salary and reimburse his health benefit costs.
"We were told we could not do any investigation" to avoid interfering with the criminal probe, Holmquist said. "We didn't have any evidence and we couldn't put on any witnesses. We didn't have anything to successfully defend a challenge."
The 61-year-old recently was charged with 23 counts of lewd acts upon children, ages 6 to 10, accused of feeding his semen to some students during "tasting games" in his classroom from 2005 to 2010.
A second Miramonte teacher, 49-year-old Martin Springer, was fired this week and has pleaded not guilty to committing three lewd acts on one girl in class in 2009. He was freed on bail early Friday, though the Los Angeles County sheriff's department said he was fitted with a court-ordered electronic ankle monitor.
At Miramonte, students returned to class for the first time Thursday since the entire 120-member staff was replaced in an unprecedented move by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The day got off to a rough start with the teachers union president assailing the reassignment of teachers as a stunt and about 100 parents and students blasting the move.
United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher said teachers were being "tarred and stigmatized for no reason" and that grievances would be filed against the district on behalf of some 85 reassigned teachers.
Superintendent John Deasy said the makeover was needed to clear the school from a cloud of distrust and suspicion stemming from the arrest of former third-grade teacher Mark Berndt.
Parents attended a meeting with the new principal, but many emerged dissatisfied, saying the district went overboard.
"My son liked his teacher," said Jose Vargas, shaking his head.
Whether any of the previous staff will return to Miramonte will be determined after the district completes its investigation into how Berndt's alleged activities went undetected for so long, Deasy said.
In the classrooms they left behind, children and teachers were adjusting.
In Martha Cedeno's first-grade class, pupils told her where to find the gym schedule and explained they were to play volleyball, according to a pool report.
The new hires, which include a retired principal, 81 teachers and dozens of support staff, will cost the cash-strapped district $5.7 million, said district spokesman Thomas Waldman. The new staffers were recently laid off and were on a rehiring list.
The district also faces potentially millions of dollars in legal costs as lawsuits are filed. Three lawsuits were filed on Tuesday, and claim notices have been filed for at least four other lawsuits.
A number of parents have opted to file lawsuits instead of going to sheriff's detectives because they are illegal immigrants and are afraid they'll be deported.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano said he will reintroduce a bill this month that will protect children and domestic violence victims from deportation.