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Entire staff at L.A. school to be replaced in wake of abuse allegations, superintendent says

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy told parents Monday evening that the district is replacing the entire staff of Miramonte Elementary School in the wake of the arrests last week of two teachers on lewd conduct charges.

(PHOTO: LAPD officers stand in front of Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, California, Monday, February 6, 2012. The Los Angeles Unified School District closed the school for two days this week as the campus reels from allegations that two teachers engaged in lewd conduct with students.)

The unprecedented move is intended to build confidence among the many families who have lost faith in their neighborhood elementary school. More than a quarter of students did not show up for classes Monday.

Officials stressed that no one else on the Miramonte staff is under suspicion of wrongdoing but that the chain of events has placed a cloud over the campus that can be lifted only with a drastic response.

One of the largest elementary schools in the nation, Miramonte has about 1,500 students and a teaching and administrative staff of about 150.

The displacement could be temporary: Many, maybe all, of the current staff will be returned to the school eventually, officials said. In the interim, their places will be filled by qualified teachers and other workers already on a placement or rehiring list. There are plenty of available candidates: Over the last several years, thousands of instructors and other non-teaching staff were laid off because of budget cuts; the vast majority are considered fully qualified employees who lost work simply because they lacked sufficient seniority.

The displaced staff will continue to be paid and also will receive counseling for a series of events that also traumatized the Miramonte staff, officials said.

The restaffing is the latest development at Miramonte, which is south of downtown Los Angeles. A week ago, prosecutors charged a longtime teacher with 23 counts of lewd acts with a child. Mark Berndt, 61, allegedly spoon-fed his semen to blindfolded students and also took pictures of the acts. He has resigned from the district.

Later last week, sheriff’s deputies arrested his colleague, Martin Bernard Springer, 49, on suspicion of fondling two 7-year-olds in his class within the last three years.

Teachers union officials said in a statement that they have met with instructors at the school.

“We support a thorough, vigorous and fair investigation of all allegations. It’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure that any and all allegations are thoughtfully and carefully investigated,” the statement said.

Parents packed the meeting Monday evening at a nearby high school. The district had closed the meeting to the media even though parents demanded that reporters and cameras be allowed in. The district refused.

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