Miramonte Elementary School, a California school that made national headlines after teacher were accused of committing lewd acts, reopened its doors Thursday amid a throng of protesters, heavy police presence and a building filled with new teachers.
The school had been shut down for two days while it found replacements for the entire school and the mostly Latino community reeled from allegations that a teacher fed his students semen, another one molested students and a teacher’s aide sent an 11-year-old a love letter.
About 100 protesters showed up at the school because they opposed the disruption of removing everyone from the principal to the custodian for the rest of the school year.
The protesters, who included parents and students, held signs bashing the Los Angeles Unified School District, proclaiming "Give us our teachers back," and "LAUSD Shame on You."
"It's kind of hard," said Lorena Sorian, whose sixth-grader attends Miramonte. "You barely know your teacher, and they're gone. The kids don't know what's going on."
Sorian said the arrest of the two teachers made her think twice about enrolling her younger children at Miramonte next fall.
A new school currently is under construction nearby.
The case of a third-grade teacher accused of feeding children his semen during bizarre tasting games in his classroom over a five-year period has sparked outrage and roiled the nation's second-largest school district.
School district officials closed the school on Tuesday and Wednesday to completely replace the 120-member staff.
Superintendent John Deasy said the move was necessary to restore trust among parents in the largely poor, Latino neighborhood of unincorporated Los Angeles County.
Deasy has said he will decide whether any of the previous staff will return to Miramonte after the district completes its investigation.
The president of the teachers union claimed Thursday that none of the instructors will be allowed back.
Warren Fletcher said some 85 teachers received notice of administrative transfer on Wednesday. He claimed the educators were being "tarred and stigmatized for no reason."
The union will file grievances and appeal to the school board to overrule Deasy's decision, Fletcher said.
Spokeswoman Monica Carazo said the district would not immediately respond to Fletcher's claim or comment on whether such notices had been sent out.
The new staff includes a retired principal, 88 teachers and dozens of support staff who were recently laid off and were on a rehiring list.
The new hires alone will cost the cash-strapped district $5.7 million, district spokesman Thomas Waldman told the Los Angeles Times. There will be a counselor in each classroom for the rest of the school year.
In addition, the teachers and staff who were removed will be paid. They eventually will be kept at an unfinished high school nearby, and some teachers will help plan future curriculum for Miramonte, Deasy told radio station KNX.
Although the teachers will be new, Miramonte students will find little else changed, Deasy said.
"They are coming right back to their desks, their work is already on the wall," he said. "What we are doing today is providing students with an opportunity to talk about what has happened."
In addition to those costs, the district faces potentially millions of dollars in legal costs as lawsuits are filed. Families of at least two dozen Miramonte students have retained lawyers so far, the Times said.
The school's reopening follows revelations Wednesday that 200 more inappropriate photos of children were discovered, and that one teacher sent warmly written birthday cards and presents to students who participated in his games.
Teacher Mark Berndt sent birthday cards to some of the girls, asking how they were adjusting to the fourth grade, according to three lawsuits filed against the district.
He also is accused of writing warm notes such as "surely no teacher could ever have a more wonderful student than you!!" and "P.P.S. The Roaches Say 'Hi!'"
The notes were signed "Mr. B."
Students at the school say a large cockroach and other insects were kept in terrariums in Berndt's classroom, and authorities allege he photographed some students with the bug placed on their faces.
The cards were provided as exhibits in the lawsuits, which were filed Tuesday on behalf of three former students of Berndt. The suits allege the district and Principal Martin Sandoval failed to adequately safeguard the students against Berndt and a second teacher arrested, Martin Springer, who faces three lewdness charges in connection with the fondling of a second-grader.
Berndt is accused of gibing one girl a CD dated Feb. 12, 2010, with the message, "Happy 9th B-Day — Hope You Enjoy the Songs!" and such songs as "Never on Sunday" and "Gonna Get Along Without You.",
Sheriff's investigators said they have found 200 additional photos they believe were taken by Berndt who is accused of committing lewd acts on 23 children from 2005 to 2010.
The photos were found late last week at the same pharmacy where a photo lab technician had first noticed odd pictures that led to Berndt's arrest, sheriff's Lt. Carlos Marquez said. The recent discovery brings the total number of photos to roughly 600.
Many of the photos involve children already identified by authorities, but there may be other victims, Marquez said.
Like the other pictures, the photos show children ages 6 to 10 blindfolded and being fed a milky, white liquid that authorities believe was semen on spoons or cookies, Marquez said.
Berndt, 61, taught for 32 years at the South Los Angeles school. He remains jailed on $23 million bail and could face life in prison if convicted.
The furor over his arrest led two parents to come forward last week to complain about Springer, who had worked at the school for 26 years.
Springer, 49, pleaded not guilty after he was charged with committing three lewd acts upon one girl in 2009. Bail was set at $300,000.
Detectives said there is no evidence that the two men acted in concert.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.