Southern California School Leaders Sued Over Teacher Sex Abuse

By Christina Hoag | January 31, 2013

The current Los Angeles schools superintendent and five of his predecessors in Southern California have been sued on grounds that they systematically covered up complaints about teacher sex abuse of students over the past two decades.

Attorney Brian Claypool said he filed the suit on behalf of the 12 children and 19 parents he is representing in another lawsuit stemming from the 2012 case of a former third-grade teacher facing charges for allegedly feeding students his semen over five years. Principals as far back as 1992 had received complaints about the teacher, Mark Berndt, but no action had been taken against him.

Since that case at Miramonte Elementary School was made public a year ago, more cases of alleged teacher sex abuse and administrator inaction have surfaced in the district, including last week’s arrest of a former elementary teacher on charges of molesting 12 students and the removal of a principal who failed to act on complaints about him since 2004.

“This is not negligence,” Claypool said. “This is an intentional, calculated plan to quash complaints. We’re now attacking 20 years of custom and practice.”

Claypool likened what he called the district’s culture of concealing complaints about pedophile teachers to the Roman Catholic Church’s cover-up of pedophile priests.

District General Counsel David Holmquist said in a statement that student safety is a top priority for the nation’s second largest school district.

Since the Miramonte case, the district has extensively reviewed and overhauled its reporting policies and procedures, strengthened its system for reporting teacher misconduct to state credentialing authorities and instituted a parental notification system when a teacher is being investigated, among other efforts, Holmquist said.

Claypool noted that after Miramonte, Superintendent John Deasy ordered principals to comb through four decades of personnel files to find any unaddressed complaints of improper conduct, but principals previously were told not to put such complaints in personnel files, according to a memo from the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles.

“There’s a culture in place. These administrators were trained not to report abuse,” he said.

He also added that many of the teacher sex abuse cases have surfaced in schools located in poor, minority neighborhoods.

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