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LAUSD knew of misconduct by Miramonte teacher in 1983, records show

LAUSD knew of misconduct by Miramonte teacher in 1983, records show
Former Los Angeles Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, right, sits with his attorney in Los Angeles County Superior Court. He pleaded no contest to lewd conduct with young students at his school. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Unified School District had received complaints of inappropriate behavior by a Miramonte Elementary School teacher nearly three decades before he was arrested for lewd acts against children, according to court documents.

The documents show that district officials knew about allegations against teacher Mark Berndt in May 1983 — about a decade earlier than had been previously disclosed to the public. Berndt, 63, pleaded no contest last year to lewd conduct and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

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Berndt taught at Miramonte from 1979 to 2011, when investigators began to look into his conduct based on photos turned into police. He was later accused of spoon-feeding his semen to blindfolded students as part of what he called a "tasting game."

According to the documents, which were filed as part of a civil lawsuit on behalf of Berndt's victims, the teacher had been accused of dropping his pants during a 1983 school trip to a museum and park. Miramonte's principal at the time wrote a memo regarding the incident, which appeared to have been reported by a parent. It was not clear from the memo what was done after the report.

"Called parent above – OK!" the principal scribbled on the last line of the memo. Attached to the memo was a hand-written note from Berndt, thanking the principal for his "support" during a meeting about the incident.

"I sincerely apologize for any embarrassment I caused either to you or the parents who were involved, and I hope you convey this feeling to the parents," Berndt wrote. He added: "P.S. I did learn at least one thing for sure! Not to take students to the museum while wearing baggy shorts!"

The filing comes after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge overseeing the case ruled that much of the evidence in the civil trial can be publicly disclosed, except for names and identifying information of victims and their parents, police investigative reports, and Berndt's personal information such as his Social Security number.

"The parties cannot shield information from disclosure merely because it is damaging or of an upsetting nature," Judge John Shepard Wiley Jr. wrote.

Attorneys for students and their families are trying to prove the district should be held liable because it was on notice about Berndt's behavior long before his abuses became publicly known. Evidence in the case also includes testimony from students who reported accusations against Berndt in the 1990s. Several students said they told school officials in 1992 that Berndt would masturbate in class – one student testified that was how he or she first learned of the word – but weren't believed.

"I don't think they took us seriously," one student said.

Another said Berndt touched her inappropriately in 1994. That incident was reported to the police but dropped after investigators concluded there was insufficient evidence.

The district last year agreed to pay $30 million to settle 58 claims brought by those victimized by Berndt, about half of the identified victims. The judge is scheduled to hear a motion brought by the district to dismiss the remaining cases on Oct 7.

LAUSD spokesman Sean Rossall declined to discuss the details of the memo, saying the district did not want to "litigate the case in the media."

"From day one, we've been committed to resolving these cases in a way that's fair and provides for the health and educational needs of the students," he said.

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