Did Picasso made him do it …or make kids insensitive?
Post-Miramonte, attorney calls for more aggressive measures
by Howard Blume, LA Times/LA Now | http://lat.ms/PSOIIu
October 1, 2012 | 3:38 pm :: An attorney representing two dozen students urged school officials Monday to take more aggressive action in response to alleged lewd conduct at Miramonte Elementary School.
The Los Angeles Unified School District should agree to an independent monitor over safety issues, said Luis A. Carrillo in a news conference at his South Pasadena office. The monitor’s tasks would include setting up a safety hotline available for every school that allowed for anonymous reports. Other duties would include submitting quarterly reports. The monitor also would be responsible for directing staff training on child safety issues, outreach to parents and a review of best practices elsewhere.
L.A. Unified reacted by listing measures it has taken since the January arrest of former instructor Mark Berndt on 23 counts of lewd conduct. Berndt has pleaded not guilty.
The school system has provided ongoing counseling to anyone affected at Miramonte or in the surrounding Florence-Firestone community, cooperated with investigators, pursued an internal review, opened its records to a state audit, reviewed 40 years of employee files and established an investigative commission.
The district also has begun alerting parents when an employee is removed from a school as a result of alleged lewd conduct. Carrillo asserted, however, that not all such notifications have been made as promised.
District employees take part in child abuse-awareness training annually.
The school system has set up or been forced to allow various forms of oversight over the years. Currently, an independent monitor reviews the education of children with disabilities. School bond spending is scrutinized by an appointed committee.
In his materials, Carrillo also objected to a small print of Pablo Picasso’s “Girl Before a Mirror,” which Berndt had posted on a classroom bulletin board. Carrillo called the 1903 cubist work inappropriate for elementary school.
By Vanessa Romo, KPCC’s Pass Fail blog | http://bit.ly/SiaARC
Picasso's 1932 painting, which is now hanging in New York's Museum of Modern Art. Lawyers point to a print of this painting that hung in a Miramonte classroom.
Lawyers for 24 children who claim sexual abuse at Miramonte Elementary School in South Los Angeles said a Picasso print hanging in a classroom was "distressing" to students and suggested an 11-point plan to protect children from future abuse.
Attorney Luis Carrillo suggested that Los Angeles Unified School District and other districts throughout the state should enact the plan. He sent copies to L.A. Superintendent John Deasy, California State Superintendent Tom Torlakson and federal education secretary Arne Duncan.
The alleged victims’ lawyers also claim that at least one of their clients experienced "suffering" because a print of a Pablo Picasso painting was posted in Mark Berndt’s classroom. Berndt is the former teacher who's accused of abusing 23 students over at least five years.
Pointing at a copy of Picasso's "Girl Before a Mirror" (pictured right), Carrillo said, "Given the context of everything that was occurring within the classroom, everything that he was doing with the children, this may be additionally distressing to the kids, to confuse them because these kinds of symbols [in the painting]."
The original of the abstract nude hangs in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Here's its description:
Picasso's young mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter, one of his favorite subjects in the early 1930s. Her white-haloed profile, rendered in a smooth lavender pink, appears serene. But it merges with a more roughly painted, frontal view of her face—a crescent, like the moon, yet intensely yellow, like the sun, and "made up" with a gilding of rouge, lipstick, and green eye-shadow.
(You too can be an art critic!: Do you agree that this painting is inappropriate for children? Vote in KPCC’s poll.)
The centerpiece of the proposed reform plan is appointing an independent monitor or ombudsman to ensure that school officials at every level are complying with outlined safety policies. Carrillo also proposes setting up an anonymous hotline to report abuses.
At a press conference in his Pasadena office, Carrillo said, "We seek permanent structural changes and the way to [that] is with an independent monitor."
He said the security of anonymity will encourage teachers and other school adminstrators to report abuses without fear of retribution. And he went on to say the hotline would be "like a fire alarm" that "rings in the superintendent’s office and board members’s office alerting the district that there are problems in a particular school."
In response to Carrillo's assertions that the district neglected to respond to allegations that Berndt abused students during the 1990s, L.A. Unified's General Counsel released a statement listing changes enacted since Berndt's arrest. They include:
- Implementing new District-wide 72-hour guidelines for mandatory notification of parents regarding alleged abuse.
- Participating in a full external audit of LAUSD practices and efforts by the California State Auditor.
- Immediately reviewing 40 years of past personnel files and streamlining reporting to improve information sharing and monitoring for potential problems and signs of abuse.
- Establishing an investigative commission, led by retired California Supreme Court Associate Justice Carlos Moreno and distinguished civil rights attorney Connie Rice, to evaluate district efforts and policies and recommend ways to improve protections against abuse.
Miramonte Victims Propose Policies to Protect Students
Lawyers of victims of the Miramonte Elementary School scandal suggest new policies to better protect children.
By Ivana Banh and Stephanie Case, Annenberg TV News USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism | http://bit.ly/U3dZF6
Monday, October 1, 2012 | 12:59 p.m. PDT :: Lawyers for the victims called for safety measures to protect students from teacher misconduct, in such cases as Mark Berndt
Lawyers for the 24 victims of alleged sexual abuse at Miramonte Elementary School presented new policy ideas to ensure student safety at a press conference Monday morning.
The attorneys wrote letters to both the Los Angeles Unified School District and state officials asking for the implementation of more effective measures to prevent sexual abuse in schools.
One suggestion the lawyers presented was for the school district to employ "Independent Monitors" who would oversee children's safety. These officials would be responsible for training teachers in LAUSD's "Safety Policies" and providing quarterly reports on complaints and actions made.
The attorneys also proposed the idea of a hotline for teachers, parents and students to anonymously report incidents of abuse or harassment to the District.
The new policy suggestions emanate from the charges that former teacher Mark Berndt molested 23 children at Miramonte Elementary School. Berndt, who taught at the school for 32 years, was arrested in January. He pleaded not guilty to the 23 charges of lewd behavior. Another Miramonte Elementary teacher, Martin Springer, was also charged for inappropriately touching two female students in 2009.
The attorneys for the 24 students filed a negligence and liability suit against LAUSD in July. The civil lawsuit alleges that school officials failed to take action after receiving complaints that Berndt had harassed students.
"We feel that they fell asleep at the wheel and didn't see the warning signs," said Michael Carrillo, one of the attorneys representing claimants against LAUSD.
"We want to see changes for these families. They're suffering, they're continuing to suffer, and we want to see that at the end of the road that some changes are made."
Following the arrests of the two teachers, LAUSD replaced the entire staff at Miramonte Elementary School. Every member of the 130-person staff, from the principal to teachers to janitors, was reassigned in July.
Miramonte students were also offered the choice of transferring to other elementary schools in their area.
"I'm intolerant when it comes to students being disrespected," said LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy.
The District plans to take the lawyers' policy suggestions, as well as the ideas of others, into consideration when moving forward.
"[We have] consistently sought expertise and recommendations on ways we can improve our practices throughout this process," said LAUSD representative David Holmquist.
"Our goal is to ensure that we are taking every opportunity to ensure the most healthy and safe learning and working environment possible for the entire LAUSD family."