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South El Monte teacher arrested on suspicion of molesting students

South El Monte teacher arrested on suspicion of molesting students
Joseph Baldenebro was arrested on suspicion of molesting children as a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in South El Monte. (Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department)

A fifth-grade teacher in South El Monte has been arrested on suspicion of inappropriately touching students, and investigators are trying to determine whether there are other potential victims, authorities said.

Joseph Baldenebro, 54, was arrested Wednesday and accused of multiple counts of molesting children and lewd or lascivious acts involving children, according to a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department news release. He is being held on $404,000 bail.

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He is accused of inappropriately touching female students between the ages of 8 and 11 in the classroom and on school grounds, according to the news release.

Baldenebro has been a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in the Mountain View School District for 21 years, authorities said.

He has been out of the classroom and on administrative leave since May 15, when the school's principal notified the district that there was a report of an incident between him and a student at the school, said district spokeswoman Michele Earle. The district contacted law enforcement at that time.

Detectives have identified several victims who say they were abused between fall 2015 and May of this year, sheriff's Lt. Todd Deeds said during a news conference Thursday. He did not know if the school had received complaints about Baldenebro before this year.

"Because of … Baldenebro's tenure at the school, we believe that there are other possible victims out there," Deeds said. "If you're a parent and your child has attended Miramonte Elementary School, we ask that you talk to your child and find out if there is anything unusual that occurred or anything criminal in nature."

Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff's Special Victims Bureau at (877) 710-5273.

A counseling team was at the school after Baldenebro was removed in May, and "we have a counseling team at the school right now for any kids who need to talk or are affected by his removal," Earle said.

This is a different Miramonte Elementary School from the L.A. Unified School District campus of the same name that was struck by a similar scandal. The LAUSD in 2014 paid out about $139 million to dozens of families whose children said they were victims of sexual abuse at the hands of teacher Mark Berndt. Berndt pleaded no contest in 2013 to 23 charges of lewd conduct, including feeding children his semen in what he called a tasting game. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Mountain View Supt. Lillian Maldonado French said in a statement that the district was "shaken by these allegations," but "Mountain View School District is committed to creating and fostering an environment where its students, faculty and staff have the resources they need to achieve academic excellence in a safe and secure learning environment. This commitment is unwavering."

Reach Sonali Kohli at Sonali.Kohli@latimes.com or on Twitter @Sonali_Kohli.

UPDATES:

2 p.m.: This article was updated with details from a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department news conference.

This article was originally published at 10:35 a.m.

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