Miramonte settlement is largest ever involving LAUSD

Mark Berndt, former LAUSD teacher at Miramonte Elementary School

Mark Berndt, former LAUSD teacher

LA Unified has reached a settlement worth almost $140 million with 81 victims and their families from the sex abuse scandal involving former teacher Mark Berndt at Miramonte Elementary School.

The exact amount, $139,250,000, is the largest settlement involving LA Unified and possibly of any school district in the country.

“This puts to rest all of the litigation that is currently at issue,” General Counsel David Holmquist told LA School Report.

By reaching an agreement with the families, the district avoids going to trial in a series of civil cases. Jury selection on the latest had begun on Monday.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines said the deal “struck a balance” for the two sides.

“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,” Cortines said in a statement issued by the district.

Holmquist added, “Our priority has been to resolve these cases without the need for potentially painful litigation for these families. We know that these settlements will provide for the future needs of these students.”

About 65 families had accepted a separate $30 million settlement last year.

Berndt, 62, pleaded no contest last year to 23 counts of lewd conduct upon a child. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison, which at the time the judge called “a life sentence” due to his advanced age.

The investigation into the veteran teacher was launched after a convenience store film processor came across a series of disturbing photos depicting blindfolded children whose hands and feet had been bound by tape.

An independent process had been established with the court, allowing the judge to review each of the claims and assign the appropriate individual amount.


Just In: LAUSD settles Miramonte civil cases for $139 million

LA UnifiedThe Los Angeles Unified School District has just announced a settlement today in civil cases stemming from the actions of a former teacher at Miramonte Elementary School. The school district resolved the remaining Miramonte litigation at issue for a total of $139,250,000.

“There is nothing more important to us than the safety of the students we serve,” said Superintendent Ramon 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.”

Check back with LA School Report later for more details.

Jury selection, settlement talks ongoing in Miramonte case

Miramonte Elementary SchoolJury selection resumed today in the Miramonte Elementary School sex-abuse civil case against LA Unified while settlement proceed but not yet with any results.

The district school board met in a closed session yesterday reportedly to discuss a settlement offer that was made by the plaintiffs, who are former students and parents at Miramonte suing the district over the actions of former teach Mark Berndt, who is now in prison.

With no settlement reached, about 75 prospective jurors were brought in Tuesday, with roughly two dozen advancing in the selection process, according to the Long Beach-Telegram.

Attorney Brian Claypool, who represents three plaintiffs, told ABC7 that a settlement offer had been made and that they were waiting to hear back from the district. He also said he believed the district had been dragging its feet on the case.

“We’re forging ahead, we’re moving forward with the trial, we’re not going to be side-tracked anymore,” Claypool told ABC7. “There’s not going to be any more detours in this case because we feel like that’s what this was.”

LA Unified has already settled 65 claims for about $30 million in civil cases related to Berndt, and there are dozens of other plaintiffs waiting to go to trial.

Previous stories: Jury selection, settlement hearing to begin in Miramonte civil trialFirst Miramonte civil trial scheduled to begin on Wednesday


Jury selection, settlement hearing to begin in Miramonte civil trial

miramonteJury selection is scheduled to begin today in the civil case stemming from the sex abuse scandal at Miramonte Elementary School by former teacher Mark Berndt.

Also set for today is a settlement hearing, which was scheduled by the judge in an effort to settle the case before it goes to trial.

Assuming no settlement arises out of today’s hearing, opening statements at trial are expected in early December.

Berndt plead no contest last year to 23 counts of lewd conduct on a child between 2005 and 2010 in a case that made nationwide headlines. Berndt is currently serving a 25-year sentence in prison for crimes that included feeding students cookies containing his bodily fluids. 

LA Unified has already settled 65 claims for about $30 million in civil cases related to Berndt, and there are dozens of other plaintiffs waiting to go to trial. The case heading into jury selection today involves 16 former Miramonte students and 27 parents who plan to argue that the district knew Berndt was a danger to students but kept him in the classroom, according to the Los Angeles Times

The district had asked for a gag order which would prevent any attorneys involved from talking publicly about trial details, but the Superior Court judge in charge of the case dismissed the motion on Friday, according to the Los Angeles Times.


LA Unified wants ‘gag order’ for Miramonte sex abuse trial

Judge Rolf Treu affirm vergara decision

Attorneys for LA Unified asked the judge in the civil trial against the district involving the sex abuse scandal at Miramonte Elementary School for a gag order, which would prevent anyone involved with the case from talking publicly about it, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Jury selection in the case is expected to begin later this month. The case stems from the child abuse scandal involving former Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt, who pleaded no contest last year to 23 counts of lewd conduct on a child between 2005 and 2010. The judge is expected to rule on the motion on Nov. 14.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued against the gag order in court while Sean Rossall, who is a public relations specialist hired by the law firms representing LA Unified, said in a statement the request for a gag order is to “ensure that the case is argued in court, instead of through outside press conferences,” NBC reported.

So far, the district has settled 65 claims for about $30 million over the alleged abuse. About 70 others are still waiting to go to trial. The case starting this month has three plaintiffs who are former Miramonte students.


First Miramonte civil trial scheduled to begin on Wednesday

Mark Berndt, former Miramonte Elementary teacher

Mark Berndt, former LAUSD teacher who pleaded no contest in 2013 to abusing some of his students


The first civil trial against LA Unified over the sex abuse scandal at Miramonte Elementary School is headed to court later this week but first, a County Superior Court judge has ordered the two sides to meet for a last ditch effort to settle the case.

Judge John Shepard Wiley has ordered the district to meet with three of the student plaintiffs tomorrow in a final effort to reach a settlement, otherwise jury selection begins Wednesday. Dozens of other plaintiffs are lined up for other civil trials.

The civil suits stem from the child abuse scandal involving former teacher Mark Berndt, who pleaded no contest last year to 23 counts of lewd conduct on a child between 2005 and 2010. He is now serving a 25-year sentence, a punishment the judge in the case called “a life sentence” due to Berndt’s advanced age.

“We are saddened for all parties to be preparing to start trying these cases, as we know how difficult the litigation process can be,” said Sean Rossall, a spokesman for the school district and its outside lawyers who are handling the case.

“Like the community, we were appalled to learn of Mr. Berndt’s deviant behavior, and we share in the pain felt by these children and families,” he said. “While the full facts of the matter will unfold in the courtroom, we know that Mr. Berndt went to extreme lengths to hide his disgusting fetish.”

Allegations against Berndt first surfaced when a photo processor alerted police of pictures of children in a classroom who were blindfolded with tape on their mouths. Berndt was later accused of feeding students cookies containing his bodily fluids.

So far, the district has settled 65 claims for about $30 million over the alleged abuse. About 70 others are still waiting to go to trial including the three scheduled to start later this week.

* Contains an update on the current number of cases settled by LA Unified.

District Allocates Over $27 Million to 58 of the Miramonte Victims

miramonte schoolLA Unified said today that more than $27 million has been allocated for 58 settlements with the parents of children who were suing the school district over allegations of sexual misconduct by teachers at Miramonte Elementary. That brings to 61 the number of financial settlements with two more awaiting final paperwork and 68 other cases that are still unresolved.

“We’re still hoping to settle these cases in a way that’s in the best interest of the children,” said Sean Rossall, a spokesman for the district’s legal team.

The $27 million comes from the district’s general fund, rather than from insurance coverage. That’s because one of LAUSD’s carriers, Everest National Insurance, is suing the district, claiming that its policies don’t cover the Miramonte abuse claims.

“We’re aggressively pursuing our insurers to hold them accountable for the coverage that they had agreed to provide the district,” Rossall said.

In 2012, veteran Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt was arrested and charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct. Another Miramonte teacher, Martin Springer, was charged with molesting a 7-year-old student in his class. A third teacher was charged with “aiding and abetting” Berndt. Superintendent John Deasy responded to the scandal, which attracted worldwide media attention, by replacing the entire staff of the school.

Previous posts: LAUSD Launches Miramonte Settlement CountdownEx-Miramonte Principal Martin Sandoval Was Reassigned To El Sereno Elementary SchoolUpdate: Teacher Dismissal Bill Heads to State SenateTop District Lawyer Talks Lawsuits, Unilateral Action

Teacher Dismissal Bill Blocked Over Seven-Month Time Limit

Congressional Dist. 10 Debate

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D-San Ramon)

After nine months of hearings and amendments, legislation aimed to quicken and streamline teacher dismissal procedures failed to pass in the Senate Education Committee by one vote.

The Chair of the Senate Education Committee Carol Liu (D-Glendale) — the only LA-area lawmaker on the committee — decided not to vote for or against the bill because of district administrators and attorneys’ concerns. Many other lawmakers followed suit.

Liu did grant the bill reconsideration, however, but it now will not be reconsidered until at least January.

Unless the process is changed at the state-level, bill sponsor State Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D-San Ramon) says LAUSD and other districts will continue to wade through onerous dismissal procedures that can last 18 months or longer.

However,  Edgar Zazueta, the director of government relations for LAUSD, said that while Buchanan’s bill would be a great improvement to the current law there are some serious flaws that could damage the district if the bill passed as is.

The Buchanan legislation has been supported by the teachers union, among others.

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LAUSD Launches Miramonte Settlement Countdown

Screen shot 2013-06-26 at 9.30.28 AMYesterday, LAUSD launched a website to notify the last 35 plaintiffs in the Miramonte case of the district’s settlement offer.

The LA Daily News‘ Barbara Jones describes the website launch as “the latest salvo in what has become a public campaign by both the district and plaintiffs’ attorneys.”

As the Los Angeles Times notes, the website “includes a sample lifetime payment structure that, with interest, is expected to provide victims at least $770,000 each.”

The site also includes a countdown clock at the bottom of the page, indicating the amount of time the plaintiffs have to accept the offer. As of this writing, there’s only 9 days, 7 hours, 22 minutes, and 32 seconds left!

KPCC’s brand-new education reporter, Jed Kim, talked to Luis Carillo, the lawyer for 23 of the alleged victims, who said, “To me this is unethical, because it’s a way of communicating to our clients by scaring them.”

Previous posts: Ex-Miramonte Principal Martin Sandoval Was Reassigned To El Sereno Elementary SchoolTop District Lawyer Talks Lawsuits, Unilateral ActionState Teachers Union Rejects Criticism of Teacher Dismissal Bill

Update: Teacher Dismissal Bill Heads to State Senate


A controversial bill aimed at ensuring teachers accused of sexual misconduct and other immoral acts can be more easily removed from the classroom is now awaiting referral in the Senate Rules Committee before its eventual hearing by the Senate Education Committee.

Given the array of allies and opponents focused on teacher misconduct — especially after reports of ongoing sexual misconduct at Miramonte Elementary School shocked LAUSD — the bill’s next step will be closely followed and hotly debated.

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State Teachers Union Rejects Criticism of Teacher Dismissal Bill*

Former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt (via SCPR)

California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel has issued a sharp response to criticism of the proposed teacher dismissal bill being championed by Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo), focusing in particular on those of former state lawmaker Gloria Romero:

“Far from jumping late onto any dismissal bandwagon, CTA has led support of efforts to expedite the dismissal process, maintain existing safeguards that remove teachers from classrooms immediately when charged with serious offenses and toughen penalties for districts and school personnel who fail to follow mandated abuse-reporting procedures. These are the facts, despite any claims from paid spokespersons for organizations founded and funded in part by outspoken, school-privatization proponents and hedge-fund managers who see dollar signs in public-school funding… We applaud California lawmakers who are moving ahead with bills that keep children safe and streamline the process for removing people who don’t belong in our classrooms, while still maintaining safeguards against false allegations.”

Romero has been joined in her criticism of the Buchanan proposal by LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, EdVoice, and others.  Later this week, amendments to the Buchanan legislation are being considered in Sacramento.

*Correction:  The original version of this post mis-identified the teacher dismissal bill’s chief sponsor as Joan Sullivan, rather than Joan Buchanan.

Previous posts:  Villaraigosa Expresses Concerns About Teacher Dismissal Bill;  Deasy Requests Changes to Teacher Dismissal Bill.

Mixed Reactions to New Teacher Dismissal Bill

Assemblymember Joan Buchanan

AB 375, a new bill meant to streamline teacher dismissals, could be headed for quick passage after clearing the State Assembly’s Education Committee with a 7 – 0 vote Thursday.

The bill’s chance at passing is undoubtedly aided by the announcement last week that the state’s largest teachers union, the California Teachers Association, was joining forces with Assemblymember Joan Buchanan and Senator Alex Padilla to support AB 375.

But the alliance of Padilla and Buchanan and the quick pace of action in the statehouse have left some observers confused and concerned. Is AB 375 a watered-down teacher dismissal bill? Or have the unions, legislators, and education advocates finally come to a working compromise that will help streamline the teacher dismissal process?

Edgar Zazueta, the director of government relations for LAUSD, praised AB 375 as a “step in the right direction.”

But he also expressed reservations.

“I think we’d argue that there’s more consideration to be done here. We thank [Buchanan] for moving in the right direction, but we think we could push envelope a little further,” Zazueta said.

LAUSD, StudentsFirst, EdVoice, and Democrats for Education Reform have expressed a mix of praise and concern.

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Morning Read: Michelle Rhee Brings Ed Reform to California

Taking a Crack at California’s Education System
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Bill Clinton Picks Wendy Greuel as L.A.’s Next Mayor
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Miramonte Plaintiffs Want 2013 Trial; LAUSD’s 2014 Trial Request Rejected
The families of students allegedly abused at Miramonte Elementary School are pressing ahead with their demand for a trial. There was a court organizing session Tuesday as they move toward a trial. ABC LA

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Morning Read: Villaraigosa Fell Short on Education, Says KPCC

Why Antonio Villaraigosa Fell Short as LA’s Education Mayor
As Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa prepares to step down in June, among the achievements he takes credit for during his eight years in office is improving one institution that the law gives him no authority over: the public schools. KPCC

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See also: AP

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Morning Read: Deasy in DC

Angelenos Storm Capitol Hill for Annual LA Chamber Lobbying Trip
This year’s Access LA group included Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, LAUSD school superintendent John Deasy, five city councilmen, and more than a hundred local business leaders. KPCC
Also: Deasy was at the Council of Great City Schools conference in DC earlier this week.

SBE, School Groups in Settlement Talks Over Statewide Benefit Charters
At issue is a section of the Education Code that gives a charter operator the right to submit a petition directly to the state board for approval of a charter school that operates at multiple sites throughout the state. SI&A Cabinet Report

Miramonte Family Presses Forward With Lawsuit Against LA Unified School District
Depression, anxiety and insomnia have become almost daily challenges, according to the mother of a student allegedly abused by a teacher while attending Miramonte Elementary School.  Her family is among the 71 not included in the settlements negotiated between 58 families and the Los Angeles Unified School District. NBC LA

SoCal Olympians Mentor LA Students to Encourage Fitness, Health
While Olympians fight for the gold medal at prestigious international events, California kids are working to pass their own mandated fitness tests at schools throughout the state. These two groups come together in a program called Ready, Set, Gold! KPCC

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Morning Read: LAUSD to Pay Millions Over Abuse Lawsuits

LAUSD to Pay Nearly $30M to Settle Miramonte Sex Abuse Lawsuits
Los Angeles Unified will pay nearly $30 million to settle claims by 58 children who say they were victims of former Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt, the veteran educator charged with committing bizarre acts of sex abuse against students, attorneys said Tuesday. LA Daily News
See also: LA Times, KPCC, AP, LA Times Now Live

LAUSD Charters Would Lose Funding Under Gov. Jerry Brown’s Budget
Wilbur Elementary got $230,000 in state grants when it converted to a charter last fall. Now, administrators at Wilbur and other affiliated charters, nearly all of them in the San Fernando Valley, are struggling with the news that they stand to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants if lawmakers approve Gov. Jerry Brown’s new formula for funding public education. LA Daily News

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Over-Praising Preschool
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Morning Read: CA Charter Law Ranked 7th

Report Ranks California’s Charter School Laws 7th Strongest in Nation
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L.A. Schools Supt. Deasy, 4 Predecessors Named in Miramonte Lawsuit
The lawsuit alleges that the superintendents created an environment in which administrators were advised to dismiss complaints of misconduct, shielded teachers from scrutiny and kept allegations from being reported to state authorities and law enforcement. LA Times
See also: LA Daily News, AP, ABC LA

Applying for Kindergarten: What to Do If Your Child Is Too Young
It’s that time of the year when parents of four and five year old’s are busy with school tours and applications to secure a kindergarten spot. KPCC

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Morning Read: UTLA Approves Teacher Evaluation

Los Angeles Teachers Union Approves Use of Testing Data in Evaluations
A landmark agreement to use student test scores for the first time to evaluate Los Angeles Unified instructors was approved by the teachers union Saturday. LA Times
See also: LA Daily News, KPCC, LA School Report

‘Parent Trigger’ Organizers Find Willing Partner in Los Angeles Unified
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West L.A. Teacher’s Class Act Earns a Milken Award
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A Paper Produced by Teens for Teens Is No Longer Pressing Ahead
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Morning Read: Looming Vote On Teacher Evaluations

Teacher Vote on Whether to Use Student Test Scores in Performance Evaluations
Teachers in Los Angeles Unified will vote Jan. 14-18 on a tentative agreement that would allow the use of student test data in performance evaluations. LA Daily News

Calif. Teachers Fund Reviewing Firearm Holdings
The nation’s largest teachers’ pension fund announced Tuesday that it was reviewing its firearms holdings after determining that its investment in a gun maker was linked to one of the weapons used in last week’s Connecticut school massacre. AP

Jury awards $6.9 million to boy molested by L.A. Unified teacher
Now 14, the boy was a fifth-grader at Queen Anne Place Elementary School when then-teacher Forrest Stobbe molested him for several months. LA Times
See also: KPCC

11,200 Child-Care Slots in Los Angeles County Lost During Recession
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Morning Read: Miramonte Lawsuits Proceed

Miramonte Lewd Conduct Lawsuits Can Proceed
An L.A. County Superior Court judge on Thursday lifted a stay on lawsuits arising from alleged lewd conduct at Miramonte Elementary School. LA Times

Ex-Miramonte Teacher Mark Berndt Hires Defense Attorney
Mark Berndt, the former Miramonte Elementary School teacher accused of lewd conduct against his students, has hired as his defense attorney a former federal prosecutor who is also an ex-television news reporter. NBC LA

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My View: I Would Trade Tenure for Better Teaching
Teacher Aadina Balti has tenure, but says it’s no reason for her, or any other teacher, to stop innovating. CNN Opinion

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