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School board fires second L.A. teacher charged with lewd acts on a pupil

By Michael Martinez and Stan Wilson, CNN
updated 9:04 PM EST, Tue February 7, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Miramonte Elementary School teacher Martin Bernard Springer pleads not guilty
  • The Los Angeles school board fires him
  • In unrelated case, the board fires a high school teacher after sexual misconduct claims
  • In all, 3 L.A. teachers face sexual misconduct accusations since last week

Lea este artículo en español/Read this article in Spanish

Los Angeles (CNN) -- The Los Angeles Unified School District board on Tuesday fired Miramonte Elementary School teacher Martin Bernard Springer just hours after he was formally charged with three felony counts of lewd acts upon a girl under age 14, a school spokesman said.

Springer, 49, of Alhambra, California, has 30 days to appeal his firing, school spokesman Tom Waldman said.

Springer pleaded not guilty late Tuesday afternoon in a Los Angeles County court to three felony counts of lewd acts on a child over three months in 2009.

The judge set his bail at $300,000 on the condition that Springer stay more than 250 feet away from witnesses and alleged victims, stay more than 100 feet away from any school or facility with children and be with an adult supervisor when he's around children.

Springer's preliminary hearing is scheduled for February 16.

Springer was the second teacher at Miramonte charged with lewd conduct with pupils.

Last week, former Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt, 61, was arrested and accused of taking bondage photos of more than two dozen students in his classroom, including some with suspected semen-filled spoons at their mouths.

The school board fired Berndt a year ago; Berndt appealed but he dropped the appeal and resigned last spring, Waldman said.

On Tuesday, the school board also fired a third teacher, music teacher Vance Miller at Hamilton High School, in the wake of unrelated allegations of sexual misconduct with students, Waldman said. Miller could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

The school board unanimously approved the two latest firings during a closed session and announced its decisions publicly afterward, Waldman said.

The three counts against Springer involve one girl who was identified only as "Jane Doe" and "under the age of 14 years." The complaint alleged the crimes occurred in April, May and June of 2009, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said.

If convicted, Springer would face a maximum state prison term of 12 years, prosecutors said.

Springer was arrested Friday and accused of fondling two girls in the classroom, but Tuesday's charges involve only one alleged victim.

Berndt, who taught for 30 years, is being held in lieu of $23 million bail: $1 million for each of the 23 counts he faces of lewd acts on a child.

When asked about the difference between Springer's $300,000 bail and Berndt's $23 million bail, spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said the charges against Berndt are more serious, involving bondage, for example.

Meanwhile, students at Miramonte Elementary School will return to class later this week to a new staff, because administrators do not want any more "surprises" at the Los Angeles school that is at the center of two child abuse cases.

The school will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday to "take a break," said the Los Angeles Unified School system. The district is the nation's second largest.

When classes resume Thursday, a new staff and social workers will be at hand to receive students, said District Superintendent John Deasy.

"I can't have any more surprises at Miramonte," Deasy told an auditorium packed with parents Monday night. "And if there are more, then we'll have to deal with that."

Teacher Mark Berndt is accused of taking lewd photos of children.
Teacher Mark Berndt is accused of taking lewd photos of children.
Martin Bernard Springer is accused of fondling two students in the classroom.
Martin Bernard Springer is accused of fondling two students in the classroom.

Everyone from current custodians to teachers at Miramonte will be relocated indefinitely, school officials said.

Staffers are expected to get special training, Deasy said.

The Miramonte staff members are being relocated neither permanently nor temporarily to a new school, school officials said. It will be up to the district to decide in the future where they will be assigned, they said. Technically, they are still considered Miramonte employees.

Staffers and students will be questioned as part of the ongoing criminal investigation.

Parents will also be given the option of transferring their children to one of four elementary schools in the area.

"The actions we are taking are not a condemnation of the entire staff," Deasy said.

The moves weren't enough to appease outraged parents, who are demanding additional safeguards for the students.

"We're saying enough is enough," community leader Morris Grifton said at a demonstration Monday. "We want cameras in the classrooms, in the hallways and around the school."

Monday night, about 100 parents fumed outside the South Region High School No. 2 auditorium, unable to get into a meeting with the superintendent because it was over capacity.

Parent: Throw 'lewd' teachers in jail
Teacher arrested for lewd acts
Teacher charged for bondage photos

"The school authorities should have planned this meeting correctly to allow everyone in," said one parent, Gustavo Morales. "If there's not enough room in the auditorium, then they should have at least had it in the football field."

Parent Bessy Garcia, the mother of two children who were among Berndt's alleged victims, spoke of betrayal.

"He wasn't only a teacher. He was our personal friend," she said. "He tricked us. We thought he was the best person in the world."

She described how she and her two children were having trouble sleeping, eating and functioning as they wrestled with last week's disclosures.

"It's been like hell," said another parent, Claudia Rivera. "We're just trying to get some answers."

The investigation into Berndt began in October 2010, when a drugstore photo technician told police he found images of blindfolded children in a processing order.

After an initial investigation, investigators notified school authorities, who removed Berndt from his classroom in January 2011.

The developments come as the school district is dealing with another case of alleged lewd behavior, involving a janitor at another school.

On Sunday, the mother of a student at Germain Elementary School reported "inappropriate contact" between the custodian and her child, a Los Angeles Police Department statement said.

The man, Paul Adame, was arrested and charged with a felony, police said. He has been released on $100,000 bail.

At Miramonte, officials hope the steps they are taking will help assure parents they're serious about "a thorough, vigorous and fair investigation of all allegations"

"The safety, welfare and education of students is our No. 1 priority," the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, said in a statement Monday night. "We know that the public understands that the vast majority of teachers are doing remarkable work every day to motivate and educate the children of Los Angeles."

The replacements at Miramonte will come from a pool of applicants, including former employees, said district spokesman Waldman.

"We have had a lot of layoffs and budget cuts here and will also look at recent retirees," he said.

CNN's Jaqueline Hurtado, Greg Botelho, Antoinette Campbell, Greg Morrison, Tom Larson, Stella Chan, Alan Duke, Carma Hassan and Casey Wian contributed to this report.

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