School stunned at arrest of second teacher for alleged lewd acts
An elementary school in South Los Angeles was left reeling Friday after authorities arrested a second teacher accused of lewd acts with students.
The arrest of Miramonte Elementary School teacher Martin Bernard Springer, 49, came three days after L.A. prosecutors accused former teacher Mark Berndt of bizarre acts in his classroom that have generated national attention.
Berndt, 61, allegedly spoon-fed his semen to blindfolded children as part of what he called a “tasting game.” Police have collected hundreds of disturbing photos; in some, children are shown with a milky substance around their mouths.
The allegations against Springer, a second-grade teacher from Alhambra, come from two students he allegedly touched improperly within the last three years.
The girls “were allegedly fondled in the classroom at Miramonte school by suspect Springer,” said Capt. Mike Parker of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “They were approximately 7 years old at the time of the incidents... The investigation is continuing.”
Springer, like Berndt, has worked his entire teaching career at Miramonte. Berndt, a Torrance resident, began working as a teacher there in 1979, Springer in 1986.
Miramonte, in the unincorporated Florence-Firestone neighborhood, is one of the nation’s largest elementary schools, with about 1,500 students. Its teachers work varying schedules at the year-round campus, but Berndt and Springer knew each other. School newsletters show that they took their classes on field trips together over the last decade: one to Malibu, for example, and another to Griffith Park.
Berndt is being held in lieu of $23-million bail. Springer is being held in lieu of $2-million bail.
The Los Angeles Unified School District pulled Berndt from class in January 2011, after officials saw some of the photos. The Board of Education fired him about a month later, but Berndt retired before his dismissal could be affirmed. It was another year before deputies arrested him.
Springer was ordered out of his classroom Thursday morning. He reported for work Friday to an L.A. Unified office where there are no students, which is district policy for teachers who are suspected of wrongdoing.
Authorities are looking for other potential victims in both cases as well as past episodes of possible misconduct.
Also on Friday, more people came forward to say that they had complained to school officials about Berndt but that their concerns were ignored.
The parents of one student told The Times that their daughter showed them two strange photos Berndt allegedly took of her and other students in 2008. They said they went to the principal of the school at the time and showed him the photos. The principal, who is no longer at Miramonte, took no immediate action, said their attorney, Matthew McNicholas.
Earlier this week, two former students of Berndt who are adults said in interviews with The Times that they thought they saw the teacher masturbating behind his desk in the 1990-91 school year. A counselor at the school told a group of students at the time not to make up stories, they said. In 1994, a girl reported that Berndt had tried to touch her genitals, but an investigation did not result in charges.
Brian E. Claypool, an attorney hired by another family, said students were pulled from after-school programs and other classes to take part in the “tasting games.” Claypool said his client was 9 when her photograph was taken by Berndt, although she was not a student in his class.
District officials have pledged to cooperate fully with the investigation.
Supt. John Deasy said he wants to fire Springer as soon as next Tuesday, when the Board of Education will discuss the case in closed session.
At the same meeting, Deasy said, he also will urge the board to fire Hamilton High music teacher Vance Miller, a fixture in that school’s highly regarded music academy. Two former students, now adults, have accused Miller of having sexual relationships with them while they attended Hamilton.
Miller declined to be interviewed, as did a public defender representing Berndt. Springer could not be reached.
Deasy also expressed impatience Friday with a system in which he said it takes too long to fire teachers accused of heinous conduct.
Berndt will retain lifetime health benefits from L.A. Unified as well as his state teachers pension of nearly $4,000 a month.
“As an educator and a father, I’m appalled and sickened by the allegations,” said Deasy, but “we must never lose sight of the fact that the great majority of the teachers in this district are caring, nurturing and understanding toward their students.”
Los Angeles Times staff writers Alan Zarembo and Jack Leonard contributed to this report.