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Entire staff of US school removed as police investigate child sex abuse

More than 120 staff members at the Los Angeles school – from the principal and teachers to cafeteria workers – are being replaced as police investigate the child sex abuse claims.

Los Angeles county Sheriff John Babbitt talks to the media outside the Miramonte Elementary School
Los Angeles county Sheriff John Babbitt talks to the media outside the Miramonte Elementary School
Image: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

THE ENTIRE STAFF at a Los Angeles primary school is being removed while authorities investigate horrific allegations of sexual abuse by two of the school’s teachers, one of whom is accused of blindfolding children, taping their mouths and photographing them in a classroom.

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy said last night that more than 120 staff members at Miramonte Elementary School — everyone from the principal and teachers to the cafeteria workers — were being replaced because a full investigation of the allegations will be disruptive and staffers will require support to get through the scandal.

“We intend to interview every adult, every adult who works at that school, whether they are a teacher or administrator, or whether they are an after-school playground worker or a custodian or a secretary. I mean every single solitary adult who works at Miramonte,” Deasy said to parents who packed a high school gymnasium.

An entire staff has been selected to come into Miramonte’s classrooms to take over teaching for the time being, and there will be a psychiatric social worker in every classroom to help students and staff cope with any issues.

All employees will be paid during the investigation, district spokesman Tom Waldman said. Officials didn’t know how long the investigation would take.

“The last thing I’m worried about is a budget issue,” Deasy said. “The number one thing I’m worried about is the students.”

School officials cancelled classes on Tuesday and Wednesday as a cooling-off and transition period, Waldman said. All current staff members will report to another location, where they will be interviewed, he said. The new staff will report on Thursday.

Deasy emphasised that all new staff members being brought into the classroom went through a “very rigorous screening process.”

Parents unhappy with lack of information

He added Miramonte staff members are having a difficult time understanding this situation.

Miramonte parents were happy to hear the news first from the superintendent. They have complained bitterly that they weren’t informed about the yearlong investigation. Many heard the sordid details on news reports or from the TV crews camped out at the school’s entrance.

School officials said they deferred to sheriff’s detectives, who asked them not to divulge details that might affect their investigation.

Maria Jimenez, 51, said the parents are divided over the decision to remove the school’s 88 teachers and 40 other staff members.

“Some are in favor. Others are against it because they did this without advising us or consulting us,” she said.

The decision follows the arrest of two longtime Miramonte teachers: Mark Berndt and Martin Springer.

Berndt, 61, was charged last week with committing lewd acts on 23 children, ages 6 to 10, between 2005 and 2010.

Berndt, who worked at the school for 32 years, remains jailed on $23 million bail and could face life in prison if convicted.

Springer, 49, was arrested Friday on suspicion of fondling two girls in his classroom. He was being held on $2 million bail.

Springer taught at Miramonte for his entire career, which started in 1986, the district said. He taught second grade. The school board is scheduled to discuss firing him in a closed-door meeting Tuesday.

Investigators said they know of no connection between the Miramonte cases. Berndt and Springer know each other and took their classes on at least two joint field trips in the past decade, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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Associated Press

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