Los Angeles News

Miramonte Elementary reopens amid scandal

Thursday, February 09, 2012
Mark Springer, a Miramonte teacher arrested, was wrongly reported by the Sheriff to have been release from jail. Miramonte Elementary School reopened with new staff amid the sex abuse scandal, but some arent happy about the change. LAUSD officials are still tallying up the cost of the Miramonte Elementary scandal in the midst of a budget shortfall.

There are reportedly 950 students that attend Miramonte Elementary. Thursday saw about a 68-percent occupancy rate of attendance, with roughly 300 absences.

CORRECTION: The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department announced Thursday night that Martin Springer, one of two Miramonte Elementary School teachers accused of sexual misconduct, was released on bail. The Sheriff's Dept. issued a statement an hour later saying that Springer did not post bond.

The Dept. released this statement:

"On Thursday, February 9, 2012, the bonding out of 49-year-old former Miramonte School teacher Martin Bernard Springer was posted in error on the Inmate Information Center website of the Los Angeles County jail system.

"Suspect Springer did not bond out of jail. It is correct that he is attempting to make bond, but he has not bonded out and he does remain in the Los Angeles County jail.

"His bond is set at $300,000.00 and a court-ordered condition of his release on bond includes being fitted with an ankle monitoring device. The Inmate Information Center website will soon be updated to correctly reflect his status as being housed in the Los Angeles County jail system."

Miramonte Elementary reopens amid scandal

The new principal of Miramonte Elementary, Dolores Palacio, sought to assure parents Thursday that all the new teachers were fully qualified. Palacio has worked for LAUSD for 31 years. She said her mission is to return a sense of normalcy at the school.

"We are totally transparent. We are totally open. I welcome them to the school anytime," said Palacio. "This morning I invited them to stay in the classrooms as long as they felt comfortable."

The hiring of 169 new teachers and staff for the rest of the school year is costing the district $5.7 million.

The drastic measure comes after former teacher Mark Berndt was arrested last week and charged with 23 counts of lewd acts on children ages 6 to 10. The 61-year-old third-grade teacher was fired when the investigation began.

The investigation began after Berndt, a teacher at the school for 30 years, tried to develop photos of students, and a film processor at a CVS turned them over to police.

According to authorities, the first batch of photos showed children blindfolded with cockroaches on their faces and spoons full of semen in front of their mouths.

Wednesday, police said they found 200 more pictures at the same CVS pharmacy's photo printing database, bringing the total number of photos to roughly 600.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, immigrant-rights activists said that many people in the Miramonte community are refusing to come forward with information about the abuse because they fear it will affect their immigration status. And they are asking for assurances from the sheriff's department.

"How sad is that, that the families are not speaking up because they are afraid of getting deported?" said Jessica Dominguez, an attorney for some of the alleged victims.

In response, the sheriff's department said they would not ask about immigration status and parents should not be afraid to come forward.

The new staff includes 88 new teachers as well as a retired principal that will take over. As for the old staff at Miramonte, they will be relocated to a school that is under construction. The teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, is fighting this move. UTLA said it plans to file a grievance for every teacher in hopes of trying to bring them back to Miramonte.

"The teachers and the parents and the students of this community feel betrayed. Statements were made by district officials including Superintendent Deasy that this was going to be handled as an investigation," said UTLA President Warren Fletcher.

LAUSD spokesperson Tom Waldman said they didn't want to disrupt the school year again.

"We'll see what happens though coming in August when the 2012 and 2013 school year begins," said Waldman.

Berndt's arrest sparked a ripple-effect of child sex allegations against other current and former teachers.

The school board voted to fire a second teacher, Martin Springer, after charges were filed alleging he sexually abused two female students. The 49-year-old taught at the school for 26 years. He was formally charged on Tuesday with three counts of lewd acts on a child. He was arrested last Friday and held on $300,000 bond.

The attorney representing nine of the victims, Greg Owen, said Berndt became very close with the students, and he would take pictures and send them to the parents. Owen said Berndt also sent birthday cards and CDs to the students.

"Oftentimes he'd play these songs while he was victimizing them. Then, with his sick mind, he'd make them a CD and send it home," said Owen.

According to authorities, one of the girls dropped her case on Wednesday. They said they are not pursuing that case because she and her family did not want to get involved in the investigation.

On Monday, an attorney for three of the alleged victims accused a third teacher, a female, of helping deliver students into Berndt's classroom to be abused. Police said that although they have information that a female teacher could have been involved, they said there was no indication of criminal behavior after interviewing her.

Authorities are also investigating another allegation that a teacher's aide sent love letters to an 11-year-old boy at Miramonte in 2009.

The Los Angeles Times says the mother came to officials at the school to report that the aide, a woman who appeared to be in her 50s, had written several letters, including one that read: "when you get close to me, even if you give me the chills I like that. Don't tell nobody about this!"

The mother said the teacher's aide acknowledged writing the letters. A school district spokeswoman said the aide no longer works for the school system.

Instead of going to class on time, many Miramonte students and their parents protested outside the school. They want their old teachers back on the job.

Many parents are not welcoming the new Miramonte faculty. Students say they feel sad because they feel like they're going to a brand new school, but the new hires say they're ready for the challenge.

"We need to familiarize ourselves with them and they need to be familiar with us. So we'll be doing different lessons on that and maybe doing things to say goodbye to their old teachers," said Contisia Davis, a special education assistant.

But students say it's already been a big disruption. Sixth grade students who learned guitar from a music teacher said he was their favorite teacher and it just won't be the same.

Some students chanted, "No new teachers" from loudspeakers.

"My teacher didn't have anything to do with it, so why are they punishing him? It's like punishing us too," said student Esmeralda Ocuna.

Another student, Jacqueline Proa, said she's not sure how she feels about the new faces.

"I feel kind of scared because I don't know them and I don't know what intentions they have," said Proa.

The thought of meeting a brand new staff was overwhelming for younger students. Angel Ramirez was in tears over not seeing his first-grade teacher.

"I felt good," said student Jordan Noriega after school Thursday. "She's nice," he said when asked what he thought of his new teacher.

One parent said, "I feel a little better now."

"She was nice to us. She used to bring stuff for us," said Ramirez.

"I know he wouldn't do anything to harm us, which is why I'm against this whole situation and I'm very sad to let my teacher go," said Xochil Ramirez.

"I think the role of mental health is to be supportive, try and help everybody return to normalcy and the best possible functioning at the school as quickly as possible," said Gina Adelman, one of the social workers on campus Thursday.

(Copyright ©2014 KABC-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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