Politics

LA teacher sex abuse case prompts new bills

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The disturbing case of Mark Berndt, the former Miramonte Elementary School teacher accused of 23 counts of lewd acts on his students, is the inspiration of several Republican bills in Sacramento to make it easier to fire educators. They come at the urging of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LA Unified.

"The unspeakable crimes that these students were victims of must never happen again anywhere," said Assm. Connie Conway of Tulare.

Investigators say Berndt photographed blind-folded students being fed his semen on spoons and cookies. Investigators say they children thought it was a game. The 61-year-old had been investigated for misconduct before, but no charges were ever filed. Republicans say statewide union-backed laws and contract clauses in some districts prevent administrators from passing along information after a certain period of time.

The proposed changes include removing the "Four Year Rule" so that evidence or complaints and past wrongdoing is held longer that the current four years, allowing dismissal with no pay, and stripping pension and retirement benefits from teachers convicted of a job-related felony.

Berndt was able to resign, negotiate a settlement of $40,000 and receive a pension of nearly $4,000 a month, as well as lifetime health benefits. GOP lawmakers say that's wrong. "If you're a public employee and you're going to commit these crimes, we will not continue to pay your retirement costs," said Assm. Cameron Smythe of Santa Clarita.

At an event where the California Teachers Association and other education groups pleaded for no more budget cuts, representatives said current laws are sufficient to deal with misconduct and opposed changes. "You can look at the recent actions and where we've discovered abuse, we have, in fact, had the tools to deal with that. We've acted quickly and laws have not gotten in the way," said Bob Wells with the Association of California School Administrators.

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crime, children, sacramento, politics, nannette miranda
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