LA schools settle lewdness claims for US$27 million


Thu, Mar 14, 2013 - Page 7

The Los Angeles school district will pay about US$27.2 million to settle dozens of legal actions related to an abuse case in which a former teacher is charged with lewd acts on students over five years, lawyers in the cases said.

District officials did not reveal the amount of the settlement, but attorney Raymond Boucher, who represents several students, said on Tuesday each claimant would receive US$470,000.

District General Counsel David Holmquist said the settlement covers 58 of the 191 claims and lawsuits filed by students and parents against the district after the arrest in January last year of former teacher Mark Berndt on 23 charges of lewd behavior.

The 58 people involved in the settlement are all students, he said.

Prosecutors say Berndt played “tasting games” with students in which he fed them his semen on cookies and by spoon, sometimes blindfolding and photographing them. Berndt, who taught for 32 years at a Los Angeles school, has pleaded not guilty.

The allegations came to light when a drugstore photo technician noticed dozens of odd photographs of blindfolded children and reported them to authorities. Investigators said they discovered a plastic spoon in Berndt’s classroom trash bin that was found to contain traces of semen.

The case led to a wide-ranging overhaul of how the nation’s second-largest school district handles allegations of sexual abuse after it was revealed that previous complaints about Berndt’s behavior were ignored.

Boucher said proving some of the claims would have been a problem at trial. Some children did not have photographs of themselves eating the cookies laced with a milky white substance, or of being fed spoonfuls of it, he said.

In addition, there was no way to prove the substance in the photographs was semen, he added.

Parents also understood that with so many claims, a jury verdict could bankrupt the district, he added.

Frank Perez, an attorney representing eight students, said parents chose to settle rather than put their children through the emotional upheaval of litigation and to put the case behind them.