Sexual abuse victims accuse Los Angeles district of failing to protect students

LOS ANGELES (March 3, 2012): Since 1990, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has failed to protect students from teachers who are sexual predators, sexual abuse victims said here Friday.

China's Xinhua news agency reported that attorneys representing 20 child victims of the sexually abusive teacher Mark Berndt of the Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles released copies of claims filed against the LAUSD.

The claims were filed after two teachers at Miramonte Elementary School were arrested earlier this year on charges of sexually abusing their students.

Berndt, a veteran teacher at the school, was charged with molesting 23 children.

He has been accused of feeding his students semen, blindfolding them and placing cockroaches on their hands and faces, and taking lewd photos.

Martin Springer, another teacher at the same school, was arrested in February on charges of fondling two girls, including one who was also allegedly abused by Berndt before being transferred to Springer's class when her parents filed complaints in 2008.

According to a 25-page court document provided to Xinhua by attorney Luis Carrillo, child molestation, sexual abuse, lewd acts with students and other misconduct have occurred at Miramonte Elementary School since 1990.

The document cited several complaints against Berndt and the conviction of a teacher's aide for inappropriate conduct, saying all these have not resulted in changes in LAUSD policies, training, supervision or other actions to protect students within the school district.

It said that LAUSD negligently failed to provide proper security for the students of Miramonte Elementary School and implement training for teachers to protect children from sexual abuse and other inappropriate behavior by teachers.

What happened at the school has attracted nationwide attention as such cases are quite common in the United States.

Over the last three weeks, six employees have been booked in sex-related crimes while several others have been pulled from the classroom amid investigations at the LAUSD schools.

"There is a lot more of this going on than we have any idea about," Charol Shakeshaft, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, told local media.

Shakeshaft, who was hired by the Departments of Education and Justice in 2004 to conduct a national study on sexual misconduct in schools, found that some 7% of the 4,000 schoolchildren surveyed had experienced sexually inappropriate behavior by teachers or administrators.

That "translates into about 3.5 million children," Shakeshaft said, adding that, on average, only 9 to 11% of all sexually abused children actually report the abuse, making the actual number of victims much higher.

According to a nationwide investigation by the Associated Press in 2007, around 2,570 educators were found to have engaged in sexual misconduct between 2001 and 2005, and more than 80% of those cases involved children.

A national survey conducted for the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation in 2000 found that roughly 290,000 students experienced some sort of physical sexual abuse by a public school employee between 1991 and 2000. -- Bernama