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L.A. school district helping police investigate allegations of lewd acts

By Michael Martinez and Sara Weisfeldt, CNN
updated 9:45 PM EST, Fri February 10, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • L.A. public schools encourage parents with information to call hotlines
  • School district is working with sheriff's investigators to find more victims
  • Two teachers from Miramonte Elementary charged with felony lewd acts

Florence, California (CNN) -- Los Angeles public school officials are working with sheriff's detectives to determine whether other schoolchildren were victims of alleged teacher sexual misconduct at Miramonte Elementary School, a spokesman said Friday.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has also set up hotlines for parents to call with additional information about the school, where two teachers have been charged with felony lewd acts on pupils.

"We're working with the sheriff's department -- absolutely," said school spokesman Tom Waldman.

Los Angeles Board of Education President Monica Garcia said the sheriff's hotlines -- set up through specialvictims@lasd.org and (866) 247-5877 or (877) 710-5273 -- will accept anonymous information.

"We are appalled, extremely saddened and devastated to learn of the allegations and events involving teachers at Miramonte Elementary School. Such events should never happen, and when they do occur, we all feel the pain," Garcia said in a statement Friday.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County authorities will meet with at least three girls and one boy who were Miramonte students and now say they were also victims of a former teacher charged with lewd felony acts that may involve semen, an attorney for the children said Friday.

"We want to cooperate," said attorney Brian Claypool, after speaking with reporters outside the Los Angeles Unified School District school. "We're following through. We want the district attorney to talk to our clients.

"I had a conversation with a detective at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department yesterday," Claypool added. "He said, 'I spoke to the district attorney's office and we want to set up a meeting with several of your minor clients.'"

Lawyers: Many more abuse cases to come

A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office wasn't immediately aware of which of the 1,000 prosecutors could be involved in the planned meeting.

"I don't know anything about it," spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons told CNN.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department didn't respond to CNN's requests for a comment.

Claypool is among several attorneys representing schoolchildren who claim they are victims of former Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt, 61, who taught for 30 years until his resignation last spring.

Berndt, who quit amid a school board's firing proceedings, was charged last week with 23 felony counts of lewd acts with pupils, and he's accused of taking bondage photos of more than two dozen students in his classroom, including some with suspected semen-filled spoons at their mouths, authorities said.

Berndt is being held in lieu of $23 million bail, authorities said.

A second Miramonte teacher, Martin Bernard Springer, 49, of Alhambra, was charged this week with three felony counts of lewd acts with a girl under age 14.

Springer was released Friday in lieu of $300,000 bond and was fitted with a court-ordered ankle monitoring device, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said.

Friday marked the second day that Miramonte operated with a completely new staff, from janitor to teachers to principal. The school board shut the school for two days this week, during which the board reconstituted the entire staff in the 1,400-student school, located in unincorporated Los Angeles County within the Florence-Firestone area, about 6 miles south of downtown Los Angeles.

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