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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Southern California

Teacher Aide's Love Letters To Student Fuel Miramonte Scandal [Updated]

Newly uncovered evidence fuel parents' anger at the school rocked by sex-abuse allegations.     

[UPDATED | 3:43 p.m. Feb. 08: The state Commission on Teacher Credentialing has suspended the teaching credentials of Martin Springer, a former Miramonte Elementary School teacher charged with counts of lewd acts on a child.]

With less than a day until the expected reopening of Miramonte Elementary School, the wave of scandal continues as it was discovered that a former teacher’s aide sent love letters to a fourth grade boy.

The boy’s mother has come forward with three letters that the aide, approximated to be in her 50s, sent to her son in 2009. One letter read, “when you get close to me, even if you give me the chills I like that. Don’t tell nobody about this!”

The former teacher’s aide has acknowledged authorship the letters, but retains that she felt only a grandmotherly affection for the boy.    

Additionally, more than 200 lewd photos have been found at a local CVS photo developer, according to detectivesThe discovered photos are allegedly of Miramonte students and were taken by Mark Berndt, who currently faces 23 charges of lewd acts with a child.  

These new developments do little to help reestablish parents' trust in a school rocked by several recent allegations of sex-abuse. A parents' protest on Monday prompted the school to close for two days.  During the closure, Superintendent John Deasy ordered the entire staff to be temporarily replaced.   

When the elementary school reopens tomorrow, each class will be led by a two-person team of a teacher, pulled from district placement and rehiring lists, and a psychiatric social worker to “help students remain focused on learning and also offer immediate and ongoing support,” according to Deasy.    

Each teacher selected and the principal, who was pulled from retirement to sit in, is undergoing an extensive screening for previous complaints.    

Deasy has said that he will spare no expense for this investigation, and in a letter to the displaced staff, most of whom have been sent to a school currently under construction where they will stay on payroll until the investigation is over, the Superintendent explained that “some might see this as an extreme measure, but this is an extreme circumstance.”

And the reaction to this bold move has been extremely varied.  While some students and parents are devastated by this move, even holding protests in honor of their favorite teachers, others applaud Deasy’s dedication to keeping the children safe.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa belongs to the latter group, supporting Deasy’s clean sweep by saying, “I think we need to do everything we can to make sure these kids, these students and their families, get the help they need and to get to the bottom of how this happened.”  

The investigation will center around two veteran teachers separately accused of sexually abusing students between the years of 2005 and 2010.  

The first, Berndt, 61, has been charged with 23 counts of committing lewd acts on children. Berndt, who had worked at Miramonte for 32 years, has been condemned by his possession of photographs which depict him blindfolding students, taping their mouths, and holding spoons of his semen to their lips, which he called a “tasting game.”  

Berndt is being held in custody on bail of $23 million, $1 million for each student he abused and is set to be arraigned on Feb. 21, and could face life in prison if convicted.   

The second, Springer, 49, was arrested last Friday and charged with three felony counts of lewd act upon a child. While two females have accused him of fondling them, the charges only pertain to one of the girls, who is under fourteen years old.   

The Los Angeles Board of Education voted unanimously on Monday to fire Springer after 25 years of employment. He has 30 days to appeal the decision. However, in the meantime, he is being held on $300,000 bail. He could face up to 12 years in prison if convicted.

This investigation threatens to expose more cases of sexual abuse in the county school system, as seen in the case of Vance Miller, 50, a Hamilton High School music teacher accused of having sex with two former students. Though he has not been formally charged, the Board of Education voted to fire him immediately.

As school sex abuse expert Mary Jo McGrath said, “cases start unpeeling like an onion.” She added “it’s not a witch hunt, it’s just that someone is really looking.” 

RELATED:

Teacher in Molestation Case Investigated as Early as 1994

Charges Filed Against Second Miramonte School Teacher

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