By Ian Lovett (New York Times)
February 6, 2012
LOS ANGELES — The entire faculty at Miramonte Elementary School, where two teachers were arrested last week on accusations of child sexual abuse, will be replaced by new teachers this week, the Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent announced Monday night.
Speaking to hundreds of parents at a meeting called to address the crisis at Miramonte, Superintendent John Deasy announced the school would be closed Tuesday and Wednesday, and when students returned on Thursday, an entirely new corps of teachers and staff members would have been hired to greet them. All current teachers, administrators and staff members will be moved to a school still under construction for the rest of the school year, where they will be interviewed by school officials and, if necessary, the police.
In addition, a psychiatric social worker will be assigned to every class once the school reopens. Every student in the school district who attended Miramonte will also be interviewed.
Mr. Deasy said he felt a personal responsibility to do two things: help children who were victims, and restore parents' trust in the school district.
"We have to investigate this," Mr. Deasy said. "And we don't want to constantly disrupt education while we do that."
The crisis at Miramonte began last week, when Mark Berndt, who had taught at the school for three decades, was arrested Tuesday and charged with 23 counts of committing lewd acts upon a child.
As the police investigated the case, allegations against another teacher at the school, Martin Springer, came to light, and he was arrested on Friday, accused of groping two 7-year-olds. On Monday, a janitor at another elementary school in the district was arrested on accusations of molesting a student.
The drastic move is the school district's latest attempt to deal with a crisis of confidence among parents who had begun to protest what they said was the failure of school officials to act against the abuse and explain its extent.
On Monday morning, about 60 parents from the primarily Latino, working-class South Los Angeles neighborhood staged a protest outside the school, and many kept their children home, driving attendance, which was more than 97 percent last week, down to 72 percent. In addition, the parents of three students filed a claim for monetary damages against the school district on Monday, claiming their children had been abused. Their lawyer said more claims would be brought this week.
Like many parents at the protest, Josye Corona worried that her son might have been among those abused.
"We are trying to give the principal a message that we want answers, because they've been giving us the runaround, and we're tired of it," Ms. Corona said. "One time, my son disappeared on campus for two hours, and they didn't know where he was. They never gave me an answer. So what do I think now?"
Mr. Deasy said parents — some of whom had been demanding that the entire faculty be fired — had reacted with relief and applause to the news of the staffing overhaul. The news media, however, were barred from that meeting, and allowed to meet with Mr. Deasy only afterward. Several hundred parents who were locked out when the meeting reached capacity angrily chanted "We want justice."