As reported by the Associated Press on November 21, 2014, a settlement of $139 million dollars was announced by attorneys representing 81 students from Los Angeles’ Unified School District.
The settlement ended litigation against the school district because of its employment and supervision of Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, who was arrested in 2012 and accused of blindfolding students and feeding them cookies with his semen on them.
The plaintiffs had evidence that the school district was aware for THREE DECADES of sexual misconduct by this teacher and took no action to protect students. These students were desperately in need of protection as the AP reported that “Parents had been hesitant to complain about Berndt because of a deep respect for teachers, and they were reluctant to cooperate with police because many feared deportation.”
The victims’ attorneys uncovered at least 12 incidents of sexual misconduct reported to the school and/or witnessed by school employees between 1983 and 2009 despite child abuse records having been purged by the school district. The incidents were all of a similar nature involving Berndt exposing himself and acting in a sexually suggestive manner.
What is appalling to the reader of this story is the number of years this man was employed and the failure of this school to take any action to protect these elementary school students from him when they received repeated, and similar, complaints. The School District has done an investigation and evaluation of its policies concerning sexually abusive teachers and claims this would not happen again – but 2009 was only five years ago and any reasonable school district would have been aware of the problem of sexual abuse by teachers as almost every day in the news there are reports of sexual abuse of students at public schools as well as other schools or churches.
You have to wonder what could have possibly caused this school district to have its head in the sand. The hope is that this lawsuit and the money the School District had to pay have finally caused it to wake up and make protection of students the priority that they should have always been entitled to.
Again, this is the power of civil lawsuits – to uncover enabling institutions and expose their negligence acts as a vehicle for change. Unfortunately the change comes in this case after over a hundred students have apparently been abused and had their childhoods forever ruined, negatively impacting the rest of their lives.