Entire Staff Replaced at School Rocked by Accusations of Lewd Acts

Los Angeles Unified School District police guard the front door of Miramonte Elementary school as parents protest outside in Los Angeles on Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Los Angeles Unified School District police guard the front door of Miramonte Elementary school as parents protest outside in Los Angeles on Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)  (AP2012)

The allegations of lewd teacher behavior at Los Angeles' Miramonte Elementary School are hard for parents to stomach. 

In order to address their concerns, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy said Monday night that more than 120 staff members at the school — everyone from the principal and teachers to the cafeteria workers — were being replaced pending a full investigation into the horrific allegations of sexual abuse by two of the school's teachers.

"We intend to interview every adult, every adult who works at that school, whether they are a teacher or administrator, or whether they are an after-school playground worker or a custodian or a secretary. I mean every single solitary adult who works at Miramonte," Deasy said to parents who packed a high school gymnasium.

An entire staff has been selected to come into Miramonte's classrooms to take over teaching for the time being, and there will be a psychiatric social worker in every classroom to help students and staff cope with any issues.

Deasy emphasized that all new staff members being brought into the classroom went through a "very rigorous screening process."

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The meeting with parents came after a parent protest in which dozens of parents of students in the overwhelmingly Latino school, some clutching banners others chanting, protested a lack of action regarding the allegations. The parents demanded greater communication with education officials and the placement of cameras in classrooms and hallways.

Some carried a banner reading, "We the parents demand our children be protected from lewd teacher acts." School police and sheriff's deputies were on hand, but there was no violence.

Many Miramonte parents complained bitterly that they weren't informed about the yearlong investigation. Many heard the sordid details on news reports or from the TV crews camped out at the school's entrance.

School officials said they deferred to sheriff's detectives, who asked them not to divulge details that might affect their investigation.

Maria Jiménez, 51, said the parents are divided over the decision to remove the school's 88 teachers and 40 other staff members.

"Some are in favor. Others are against it because they did this without advising us or consulting us," she said.

The decision follows the arrest of two longtime Miramonte teachers: Mark Berndt and Martin Springer.

Berndt, 61, was charged last week with committing lewd acts on 23 children, ages 6 to 10, between 2005 and 2010. The acts cited by authorities include blindfolding children and feeding them his semen in his classroom, in what children were allegedly told was a tasting game.

Berndt, who worked at the school for 32 years, remains jailed on $23 million bail and could face life in prison if convicted.

Springer, 49, was arrested Friday on suspicion of fondling two girls in his classroom. He was being held on $2 million bail.

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Springer taught at Miramonte for his entire career, which started in 1986, the district said. He taught second grade. The school board is scheduled to discuss firing him in a closed-door meeting Tuesday.

Investigators said they know of no connection between the Miramonte cases. Berndt and Springer know each other and took their classes on at least two joint field trips in the past decade, according to the Los Angeles Times.

More than a quarter of the students at Miramonte were absent from school Monday while parents demanded more protection at the school, with attendance reaching just 72 percent, according to figures from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The district set up a toll-free hotline on Monday to receive reports of suspected abuse at Miramonte, said school board President Monica Garcia in a statement.

Garcia added that the district would step up efforts to ensure students and staff realized the importance of reporting misconduct.

Associated Press writer Robert Jablon contributed to this report.

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