I have to tell you, I’m appalled at what’s been going on at Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles. Until January 31st it was just one of many elementary school in LAUSD. Then all hell broke loose when 30 year, veteran teacher Mark Berndt was arrested and charged with committing lewd acts on 23 of his students, both boys and girls. And it got worse, we soon learned that he was also taking pictures of the children in bondage, and God forbid making them sample his semen in some bizarre tasting game. What the hell? Things like this aren’t supposed to happen in our schools.
Then, a few days later, as if to add insult to injury we learn that it’s not only one teacher, but two! That’s right, another veteran teacher Martin Springers was arrested for fondling one of his fourth grade students. Who would have ever thought there could be two pedophile teachers performing unthinkable acts on children on the same campus! L.A. was reeling! Parents were outraged. How could this have been happening right under their very noses? Why hadn’t anyone been aware of these two sickos before? Why hadn’t the principal or other staff members ever noticed their odd behavior? How long had they been molesting their children? In time we learned that there had indeed been allegations made against the teachers in the past, but they had been dismissed as simply a made up story. One student who came forward and her mother were told that they could “get in trouble for making up such stories, and nothing was done.”
And it get’s better, or should I say worse. Another 200 photos of students have recently been discovered but the identities of the bound students is still not known. Now a third teacher has been implicated in the bizarre child abuse scandal at Miramonte. It seems the teacher, a female, regularly escorted two of the victims to Berndt’s classroom. She is suspected of aiding and abetting Berndt in carrying out the abuse on students and is believed to have worked in concert with him. What a mess.
Then today the press jumped all over a story about love letter supposedly written by a classroom aide to one of the young students in the classroom she worked in that reveal an attachment to the child that goes above and beyond normal classroom affection. What the hell is going on at Miramonte? Is this just an isolated case or is it the tip of the iceberg that will uncover a much more widespread problem in the vast LAUSD?
Parents are running scared. They fear for the safety of their children. many have been keeping their kids at home, and though they know there are some very good teachers at Miramonte, they worry, because the two accused teachers were well-liked and considered good teachers as well, so parents believe no one is above suspicion. In an effort to quell fears the District has come in and removed the entire Miramonte staff and replaced them with new employees. Still parents are upset and worry about their children. Many wonder what kind of screening process these new employees underwent and if their might not be a bad apple among them. I guess only time will tell if the District’s move is the right one.
As a counselor and former teacher I am outraged! Parents have every right in the world to be angry and concerned. Isn’t the world a scary enough place for children already? They can’t walk the streets or play in the park alone without fear of some lunatic abducting them or harming them. School has long been considered the last refuge for children, their safety zone. A place parents felt good about, and wouldn’t hesitate leaving their children at. Now, thanks to incidents like these, even our schools have become a threatening place for young children.
I’ve heard some say that the Miramonte incident makes a case for sending your children to private or parochial schools instead of public schools. Don’t be fooled parents the same things can occur in any school, anywhere, even, God forbid, their Sunday school. I’m not sure what the answer is, a pedophile doesn’t wear an identifying tag. The best that we as parents can do is teach our children, teach them to recognize situations that could be dangerous, make them aware of things to watch for like teachers or other employees who may touch or put their hands on them too often, teachers that may pay more attention to them than to other students, or teachers who try to meet with them alone or behind closed doors. We are our children’s first line of defense. I used to believe that schools were their second line of defense, but after Miramonte I have my doubts.