LOS ANGELES (AP) – The Los Angeles school district will pay millions of dollars to settle claims and lawsuits filed by students and families from an elementary school where a third-grade teacher was accused of spoon-feeding children semen in what he called “tasting games,” lawyers in the cases said Tuesday.
District officials did not reveal the total amount of the settlement, but attorney Raymond Boucher, who represents several Miramonte Elementary School students, said each claimant will receive $470,000.
District General Counsel David Holmquist said the settlement covers 58 of the 191 claims and lawsuits filed by students and parents against the district after the January 2012 arrest of former third-grade teacher Mark Berndt on 23 charges of lewd behavior spanning five years at Miramonte.
A few of the cases involved another Miramonte teacher, Martin Springer, who was charged with lewd acts on a child in a case involving a second-grader that authorities said was fondled in class in 2009.
The accusation surfaced after Berndt’s arrest, Holmquist said.
The 58 people involved in the settlement are all students, he said.
Prosecutors said in Berndt’s “tasting games” he fed students his semen on cookies and by spoon, sometimes blindfolding and photographing them. Berndt, who taught for 32 years at the South Los Angeles school, has pleaded not guilty in the criminal case.
Springer has also pleaded not guilty.
The allegations against Berndt came to light when a drugstore photo technician noticed dozens of odd photos of blindfolded children and reported them to authorities. Investigators said they discovered a plastic spoon in Berndt’s classroom trash bin that was found to contain traces of semen.
Boucher, who represents 13 of the 58 students in the settlement, said proving some of the claims would have been a problem at trial.
Some children did not have photographs of themselves eating the cookies laced with a milky white substance, or of being fed spoonfuls of it, he said.
In addition, there was no way to prove the substance in photos was semen, he added.
Parents also understood that with so many claims, a jury verdict could bankrupt the district, he added.
“We had to do a balancing act and we understood, if you go that second route and you wind up (with the district) in bankruptcy, these clients will never receive compensation for what they’ve been through,” Boucher said.
Frank Perez, an attorney representing eight students, said parents chose to settle rather than put their children through the emotional upheaval of litigation and to put the case behind them.
Other attorneys blasted the settlement amount as paltry and said they would proceed with their cases.
“This is lifelong trauma,” lawyer Brian Claypool said.
Attorney John Manly said the district has not yet explained how the alleged incidents went undetected for so long.
“The district got a great deal today,” he said. “There’s not been a single explanation of who knew what when.”
The case led to a wide-ranging overhaul of how the nation’s second-largest school district handles allegations of sexual abuse after it was revealed that previous complaints about Berndt’s behavior were ignored.
It also shined a light on how slowly state officials act to censure teachers and led to a flurry of allegations of teacher-student sex abuse in the district and in other school systems.
Shortly after Berndt’s arrest, the school district temporarily removed all 76 of the school’s teachers along with staff and administrators, putting them on leave and having them report to an empty high school nearby.
Six months later, when the new school year began, 43 of them returned to a restructured Miramonte with a new principal. The rest either retired or went to new schools.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- The best places to celebrate Fall in Phoenix
- Infamous athletes who did the most time for their crimes
- 2016 baseball highlights, bloopers and blunders
- See how CFOs really feel about business in the Valley
- The best television shows on the internet
- A preseason guide to avoid holiday weight gain
- The 5 worst things you could do for your roof
- 6 coolest things brewing in Arizona
- The virus that keeps head and neck cancers on the rise
- State Fair ‘Kid Reporter’ has all the angles covered
- 4 important things to know about timeshare maintenance fees
- Signs of delayed car crash injuries
- The truth about sports concussions
- The Alzheimer's epidemic: Facts you need to know
- The season is here, keep your Fantasy Football team strong all season
- 8 TV shows you can't miss this fall
- Football is here: 6 tips to make this your best season ever
- Gameday recipes and beers to match
- 6 reasons the Cardinals are driven to win the Super Bowl
- The Pac-12 football season nears kickoff
- Tips to get ready for a pain-free golf season
- Protect your family with these 7 home security features
- How to train like an Olympic swimmer
- 2016 Olympics: A guide to must-see TV events
- The bride's guide to feeling your best on your wedding day
- Deciding when you need knee surgery
- Celebrating Fourth of July is much cooler in these AZ towns
- Top ten road trip bathrooms in America
- Six things causing a pain in your neck
- 5 things to make your summer move easier