The deal involving 82 students who were blindfolded by the teacher and unwittingly made to participate in the teacher’s lewd act puts an end to a year long legal battle involving the school board and students attending Miramonte Elementary.
The deal came to be signed off after overtures from plaintiff lawyers who planned to present evidence suggesting the school district was aware of sexual misconduct by Berndt three decades ago but failed to act until a photo processor at a pharmacy contacted police about film Berndt dropped off that showed pictures of blindfolded children and being fed some substance.
The case led to an overhaul of how the nation’s second-largest school district handles allegations of sexual abuse. After Mark Berndt’s arrest, the district removed all 130 staff members from the school and placed them at an unopened empty campus during the lengthy investigation.
Offered School Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines: ‘Our goal from the outset of these appalling revelations has been to spare the Miramonte community the anguish of a protracted trial, while at the same time being mindful of the financial consequences stemming from settlements,’
‘Given these circumstances, we believe we struck a balance between those objectives.’
For his part Berndt was sentenced to 25 years in prison after pleading no contest to 23 counts of lewd conduct.
Today’s settlement which came during jury selection adds an additional sum of $30 million more than the district had previously agreed to pay to settle 65 other cases involving the lewd teacher.
Offered Mary Jo McGrath, a lawyer not involved in the case who trains school administrators around the country: ‘They were afraid of a blow-the-roof-off verdict to reach this kind of settlement,’
‘The hope of this is that it hurts really bad for the school district and wakes people up.’
Leading into the settlement, lawyers said they uncovered evidence that LAUSD had destroyed potentially thousands of child abuse reports and logs that had been maintained for decades. Several fourth-grade girls had complained in the early 1990s that Berndt was masturbating in class, but the allegations were dismissed and the girls were accused of lying.
At present it is not understood why the LAUSD opted to cover up for the teacher (he had at one stage threatened to sue the school if fired) and why he wasn’t brought into account many years ago when they first became aware of the teacher’s transgressions. Questions have since been asked what else the school may be covering up…?