By City News Service from the Daily News | http://bit.ly/1moAwWM
5/02/14, 11:57 AM PDT :: LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles Unified School District acted within state law when it destroyed copies of records of reported child abuse by teachers, a spokesman said today, insisting that the district never had the right to collect the documents in the first place.
But an attorney representing plaintiffs suing the district over abuse that occurred at Miramonte Elementary School demanded a federal investigation into the LAUSD’s handling of the records, accusing the district of destroying 20 years of records as part of a cover-up that allowed sexual predators to move from school to school.
Brian Claypool compared the district’s actions to allegations that the Catholic Church covered up abuse claims against priests.
“It’s my opinion that the LAUSD started destroying these records right around the time when these archdiocese cases were going on,”
Sean Rossall, a spokesman for attorneys representing the district, said the LAUSD had requested and maintained copies of “Suspected Child Abuse Reports” until 2008. The original documents were filed with law enforcement and child-protection agencies, he said.
“When the school district reviewed the law regulating possession and disclosure of these records, it realized it had erred by collecting these highly confidential law enforcement documents and made sure to bring its policies in line with statute,” Rossall said. “It destroyed this duplicate information. The school district checked with L.A. County officials prior to taking this action.”
He insisted that the district records were merely copies of documents that were already on file with law enforcement and child-protection officials. A district statement noted that “while there was a time that the school district encouraged those submitting SCARs to law enforcement and child- protection agencies to also voluntarily send a copy to the school district’s headquarters, it was later determined that the school district should not have been doing this due to the state’s strict confidentiality protections on SCARs.”
Former Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt pleaded no contest in November to 23 counts of lewd conduct involving his students and received a sentence of 25 years. Prosecutors said Berndt, 63, spoon-fed his semen to blind-folded students as part of what he is said to have called a tasting game.
But recently released court documents include a host of additional allegations, including more than 100 possible victims, including some children who claim Berndt molested them.
The new allegations about Berndt are included in a 512-page report based on a two-year inquiry by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The report is confidential but was summarized by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge John Shepard Wiley in a ruling during a pre-trial hearing this week.
The report contained the first public allegations that the veteran elementary teacher sexually abused students. Wiley indicated that Berndt touched them in a sexual manner and exposed himself. According to the sheriff’s report, he also urged students to touch him, according to the judge.
Berndt’s attorney, Manny Medrano, has repeatedly denied that his client ever physically abused any student.
Claypool lashed out at the district’s handling of the records and called on the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct a criminal investigation.
“They had something to hide,” he said of district officials. “They knew there was a lot of material in those files to hide. They didn’t want you to know about it. They didn’t want us to know about it. They didn’t want the kids in this community to know about it. And that, in a human society, in a civilized society, is simply intolerable.”
The Miramonte scandal was the biggest child abuse case in the history of the school district. Following Berndt’s arrest on lewd conduct charges in 2012, Superintendent John Deasy closed the campus for two days and reopened it with an entirely new staff. The district has paid about $30 million in settlements to 63 children and their families.
A trial of additional lawsuits is scheduled to begin this summer.
This version of the story is the least sensational and most LAUSD-friendly telling of what is a troubling-but-sensational story, filled with recent revelations and allegations of cover-up, shredded evidence, incompetence and worse.
As to the cover-up and destroying evidence, this is much clear:
- Those copies of the SCAR abuse reports were destroyed, back in 2008. Dr. Deasy and his predecessor Dr. Cortines were not with the District in 2008, they bear no responsibility for this action. Though the story above cites archdiocesan priestly abuse as being the scandal du jour in LA in ‘08 – LAUSD was reacting (whether under- or over-) to the Steven Rooney Scandal at that moment. Rooney, an assistant principal, was returned to school after charges of child abuse were dropped by the District Attorney; returned to school Rooney resumed abusing children and was caught, convicted and imprisoned. These pages have pointed an accusing finger at District Attorney Steve Cooley for this – proven out that Rooney was eventually convicted for the charges previously dropped as well as the newer ones. In 2008 LAUSD should have locked the SCAR copies in a forgotten safe somewhere …or returned them to law enforcement for disposal.
- That said, Dr. Deasy’s well documented top-to-bottom search of child abuse records reported here must have uncovered the shredding of 2008 – and the failure to promptly, immediately and publicly disclose the shredding incident demonstrates a lack of transparency and contempt of communication that screams “cover up” – and not by his predecessor but by himself.
- THIS JUST IN: While I was writing the above the news that Dr. Deasy shut down an blue ribbon committee investigation of Miramonte led by Civil Rights Attorney Connie Rice broke on the radio, Miramonte: High-powered investigation never got off the ground | 89.3 KPCC http://bit.ly/1iapDnl
- Where does it all end? …and when?