Los Angeles Teachers Protest Removal After Molestation Scandal

Los Angeles teachers, temporarily replaced by an entire staff of new teachers, at the school where two teachers were arrested on child lewdness charges in January demanded on Thursday that they be returned to their classrooms, saying they are being unfairly punished.

"It hurts, what's going on," said Ingrid Villeda, chairwoman of United Teachers Los Angeles South Area.

Villeda was speaking on behalf of many of the 85 teachers assembled behind her at a rally in front of the unfinished Augustus Hawkins High School where the teachers have been warehoused since being removed from Miramonte Elementary School in February.

Superintendent John Deasy (DAY-see) temporarily replaced the entire staff after veteran teacher Mark Berndt was arrested in January on charges that he fed semen to students. That was followed by allegations of lewd acts by a second teacher.

A spokesman says Deasy has no comment.

Teachers say they've been left in the dark as the district conducts the investigation on whether they'll return to the school.

Several teachers read personal statements to the media about how their removal has affected their lives, saying they were humiliated, sad and angry.

The teachers, wearing blue and yellow school t-shirts and wearing signs reading "Return the Miramonte staff now" and "Don't punish the innocent" did not give their names because they have filed a grievance against Los Angeles Unified School District and must maintain confidentiality.

The union representatives said the teachers were undergoing "professional development" and training courses at the high school but would not reveal any further details about their activities.

Berndt came to authorities' attention at least as far back as 1994, when a 10-year-old girl claimed he reached toward her genitals during class. Sheriff's deputies sent the case to prosecutors, who declined to pursue charges.

Berndt, 61, continued teaching at the school for almost another decade before being fired. He taught 30 years at the school, which is predominantly Hispanic and where 95 percent of students qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

He was arrested in January on felony charges of committing lewd acts on 23 boys and girls, ages 6 to 10, between 2005 and 2010. Berndt remains jailed on $23 million and could face multiple life sentences.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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