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L.A. schools to notify parents when teachers are removed

They'll be told within 72 hours if an instructor is pulled because of sexual-misconduct allegations.

March 30, 2012|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • Parents at Miramonte Elementary in unincorporated Florence-Firestone were upset that they received no explanation when veteran teacher Mark Berndt was pulled from class early in 2011.
Parents at Miramonte Elementary in unincorporated Florence-Firestone… (Krista Kennell / AFP/Getty…)

Parents will be notified within 72 hours when a teacher is removed from a classroom because of sexual-misconduct allegations, Los Angeles school officials announced Thursday.

The new policy addresses parent anger after the arrests of several teachers and other Los Angeles Unified School District employees.

"The spate of cases involving sexual misconduct in recent months has prompted a reevaluation of our reporting procedures," Supt. John Deasy said in a statement.

Parents at Miramonte Elementary in unincorporated Florence-Firestone were upset that they received no explanation when veteran teacher Mark Berndt was pulled from class early in 2011. A year later, Berndt was charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct, including allegations that he spoon-fed semen to blindfolded students; he has pleaded not guilty.

Before the arrest, the school district and detectives limited the release of even partial information to those interviewed as part of the investigation. They said they didn't want to risk compromising the probe.

At Telfair Elementary in Pacoima, parents and school employees received no explanation even after former teacher Paul Chapel had been in jail for months. Local school board member Nury Martinez learned of it from the media. Chapel has pleaded not guilty to 16 counts of lewd acts and continuous sexual abuse of four students.

Previous policy specified no deadline for informing parents, creating the impression that L.A. Unified was deliberately withholding information, Deasy said.

But the district has been criticized by people who say it was doing exactly that. Some say the school system has resisted issuing any notification, even under pressure.

When contacted this year about a former music instructor accused of misconduct, for example, Hamilton High Principal Gary Garcia said parents and students had received no information about the teacher. Nor had he, Garcia added.

At the time, the district was being sued by a former student of Vance Miller who alleged that the two had a sexual relationship when the boy was Miller's student. Miller, through an attorney, has denied wrongdoing. The district fired Miller in February.

One reason for the enforced secrecy has been to protect the privacy of employees — who could be innocent — and of possible victims.

The district's prior policy, from 2008, does not require any public or parental notification. It simply specifies that any release of information must be authorized by senior officials.

A 2006 policy had required notifying only the parents or guardians of possible victims.

"We believe that the new rule strikes the proper balance" between informing parents and assisting law-enforcement investigations, Deasy said.

The district is still developing notification rules when abuse allegations arise against other types of employees, such as volunteers, custodians, teacher aides or clerks.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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