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Sexual abuse case in LA school district ends in $88M settlement – $3M per family

Robert Pimentel at his arraignment on Jan. 24, 2013 at Los Angeles Superior Court in Long Beach, Calif.

Robert Pimentel at his arraignment on Jan. 24, 2013 at Los Angeles Superior Court in Long Beach, Calif.  (ap)

A Los Angeles school district has agreed to pay more than $88 million in lawsuit settlements involving two teachers at two elementary schools who were accused of molesting 30 children.

The settlements, $58 million for students at one school and $30 million for students at the other, make up one of the largest payouts in the Los Angeles Unified School District history.

The families will receive about $3 million apiece from the settlement. 

The lawsuits alleged that the school district didn't take seriously the initial complaints of teachers' misbehavior.

Gregory McNair, a senior attorney with LA Unified, said the settlement was finalized over the weekend.

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"We're glad that we're able to resolve both of these cases so we can avoid potentially painful litigation and put these cases behind us," McNair told the Los Angeles Times in a report Monday. "We're turning a corner here because we've resolved the last two very large cases that were involving the district."

The two veteran teachers involved, Robert Pimentel at De La Torre Elementary in Wilmington and Paul Chapel III at Telfair Avenue Elementary in Pacoima, are each serving long prison terms after pleading no contest in molestation cases.

The schools are at opposite ends of the giant school district and the cases were not connected. What they do have in common, however, is that both schools serve communities with high levels of poverty and an immigrant population topping 90 percent.

The same law firm represented the victims of both and they were settled at the same time.

Court documents alleged that Chapel remained in the classroom for six weeks after a parent had complained, and students had confirmed, that he would kiss boys and girls in class.

"These historic settlements occurred because of overwhelming evidence that the District ignored warnings, employee reports and parent complaints that both of these horrible men were molesting dozens of children in the classroom," the plaintiffs' attorneys said in a statement. "These reports made their way to the highest levels of District leadership where they were either ignored entirely or actively suppressed and the predators allowed to remain in the classroom."

The school and district officials named in the lawsuit have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Both cases came to light in the aftermath of the Miramonte sex abuse case a few years ago, in which teacher Mark Berndt was convicted of committing lewd acts on students over several years. Berndt was arrested in 2012.

That 2014 settlement of $139 million came after the district had already settled several Miramonte cases and the actual total is closer to $170 million.

The disturbing details in the Miramonte case brought renewed scrutiny, and national attention to the issue and scores of lawsuits like those in the new settlement were filed.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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