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CNN – Parents rally outside L.A. school at center of child abuse cases

Parents rally outside L.A. school at center of child abuse cases

By Antoinette Campbell, CNN
updated 2:18 PM EST, Mon February 6, 2012
Miramonte Elementary is a Los Angeles public school that serves grades one through five.
Miramonte Elementary is a Los Angeles public school that serves grades one through five.

  • NEW: Parents, activists say they want teachers who were arrested to be fired
  • A spokesman says the school will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday to “take a break”
  • The two teachers were arrested last week
  • Police say the cases are not connected

(CNN) — Parents and community leaders protested Monday outside a Los Angeles elementary school at the center of two child abuse cases and called for the teachers allegedly involved to be fired.

“We’re saying enough is enough,” community leader Morris Grifton said.

Grifton was outside Miramonte Elementary School in South Gate, California, around 7 a.m. with other residents concerned about how students are being treated in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“We want cameras in the classrooms, in the hallways and around the school,” Grifton said.

Two teachers at the school were arrested last week. One is accused of taking bondage photos of more than two dozen students in his classroom, and the other is accused of lewd acts on children.

Second teacher arrested for lewd acts

Teacher charged for bondage photos

Tom Waldman, a spokesman for the district, said Miramonte will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday “to take a break.”

Waldman said both days will be “pupil free days,” but he did not say whether staffers will be in the building.

Although school was open Monday, many students were kept away by parents who were participating in the morning rally. Some of the parents planned to spend several hours outside the school to wait for a meeting scheduled for later in the day with school officials.

“We feel it’s time for officials to get out and start showing what they’re made of,” said Pedro Baez, the political director for the L.A. Urban Policy Roundtable. “This type of situation should not be allowed to be continued to go on,” he said.

In addition to adding cameras, Grifton said some rules regarding teacher personnel files needed to change.

Now, information in those files are held for 60 days. Grifton said he believes the information should be held for at least a year.

“They’re keeping it from the public,” he said. “Whether it’s insufficient for not, we want to have access to it.”

Baez, who carried a sign that read “protect our children,” agreed that there needs to be more transparency and urged local leaders to consider making changes.

He also thanked the pharmacy clerk who called police after seeing the disturbing photos.

“If it hadn’t been for him, who knows how many other victims may have fallen prey,” Baez said.

Teacher Mark Berndt is accused of taking lewd photos of children.
Teacher Mark Berndt is accused of taking lewd photos of children.

Teacher Mark Berndt, 61, is accused of taking the bondage photos, some showing suspected semen-filled spoons at the children’s mouths, authorities said.

The investigation into Berndt began in October 2010, when a CVS drugstore photo technician in Los Angeles County’s South Bay area told the Redondo Police Department about finding the images of blindfolded children in a processing order, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Scott said.

The case was turned over to the sheriff’s office, and after an initial investigation, investigators notified school authorities, who removed Berndt from his classroom in January 2011.

About 400 photographs collected by investigators show children blindfolded, with tape over their mouths, Scott said. At least 23 children in the images have been identified, while another 10 are unidentified, he said.

Some photos show female students with “what appeared to be a blue plastic spoon, filled with an unknown clear/white liquid substance, up to their mouths as if they were going to ingest the substance,” authorities said.

Martin Bernard Springer is accused of fondling two students in the classroom.
Martin Bernard Springer is accused of fondling two students in the classroom.

On Friday, a second teacher — Martin Bernard Springer, 49 — was arrested for allegedly fondling two young girls in the classroom.

Capt. Mike Parker of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department said Springer’s arrest is “quite different” from Berndt’s.

Aside from the two teachers being assigned to the same school, “I’m not aware of any connection” between them, he said.

Berndt, a 30-year teaching veteran, is being held on $23 million bail: $1 million for each of the 23 counts he faces of lewd acts on a child.

On Friday, about 15 angry parents gathered outside the school, complaining that administrators failed to apprise them of the investigation into the second teacher.

One mother, Isadora Arrellano, said she would transfer her 5-year-old deaf son to another school at the end of the academic year.

“Right now, I’m really worried for my kid,” Arrellano said.

“I leave my son and I go home and I don’t know what’s going to happen to him,” she added. “He’s deaf, so he cannot speak, so that’s why I’m worried. I’ve lost all trust in this school.”

CNN’s Greg Morrison, Michael Martinez, Jaqueline Hurtado, Tom Larson, Stella Chan, Alan Duke and Stan Wilson contributed to this report. 


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