LA school in sex abuse case gets entire new staff

An entirely new staff of teachers will greet students Thursday at an elementary school rocked last week by the arrests of two longtime teachers on lewdness charges.

Parent Maria Guadalupe Garcia holds a sign reading in Spanish: " We don't want new teachers." (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An entirely new staff of teachers will greet students Thursday at an elementary school rocked last week by the arrests of two longtime teachers on lewdness charges.

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 garnered international headlines and roiled the nation's second-largest school district.

Amid outrage from parents, Los Angeles Unified School District officials closed Miramonte Elementary School for two days to completely turn over the 120-member staff, from janitors to principal. The new staff comprises a retired principal, 88 teachers and support staff who were recently laid off and were on a rehiring list.

The school's reopening follows revelations Wednesday of 200 more inappropriate photos of children and that one teacher sent warmly written birthday cards and presents to students who participated in his "games."

According to three lawsuits filed against the district, teacher Mark Berndt sent birthday cards to some of the girls, asking how they were adjusting to the fourth grade. He also wrote warm notes such as "surely no teacher could ever have a more wonderful student than you!!" and "P.P.S. The Roaches Say 'Hi!'"

He signed the notes: "Mr. B."

The cards were provided as exhibits in the lawsuits, which were filed Tuesday on behalf of three former students of Berndt. They allege that the district and Principal Martin Sandoval failed to adequately safeguard them against Berndt and a second teacher arrested, Martin Springer, who faces three lewdness charges in connection with the fondling of a second-grader.

Berndt gave one girl a CD dated Feb. 12, 2010, writing on it, "Happy 9th B-Day — Hope You Enjoy the Songs!" that included such tracks 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 potential 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 that Springer, who had worked at the school for 26 years, fondled two second-grade girls in his classroom.

Springer, 49, pleaded not guilty Tuesday 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.

Associated Press
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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