LOS ANGELES (AP) — The decision to pay $40,000 to a former third-grade teacher who has been charged with committing lewd acts on students was the most immediate way to guarantee he would not be a threat to any other student, school officials said Friday.
Mark Berndt was offered the settlement — the equivalent of approximately five months of salary and other related expenses — to drop an appeal of his firing last year, the Los Angeles Unified School District said in a statement.
Berndt was removed from the classroom in January 2011 and dismissed as the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department was investigating him. He appealed but resigned in June after the settlement was reached.
The settlement was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.
"We were told we could not do any investigation" to avoid interfering with the criminal probe, district general counsel David Holmquist told the Times. "We didn't have any evidence and we couldn't put on any witnesses. We didn't have anything to successfully defend a challenge."
Berndt, 61, recently was charged with 23 counts of lewd acts upon children, ages 6 to 10, accused of feeding his semen to some students during "tasting games" in his classroom from 2005 to 2010.
A second Miramonte teacher, Martin Springer, was fired this week and has pleaded not guilty to committing three lewd acts on one girl in class in 2009. Springer, 49, was freed on bail early Friday, though the Los Sheriff's Department said he was fitted with a court-ordered electronic ankle monitor.
Meanwhile, some parents at a different school said they were angry that they were never told a teacher was charged months ago with molesting four children.
Paul William Chapel, 50, has been jailed on $2.2 million bail since his October arrest. The former third-grade teacher at Telfair Elementary School in Pacoima is accused of molesting three girls and boy in 2010 and 2011. The charges include continuous sexual abuse and committing forcible lewd acts, although details haven't been released.
"We were never informed of this. It's a big shock," parent Sylvia Hernandez told the Daily News of Los Angeles. "We would like to be informed. We'd like to know what's going on with our children in school. ... That's the least we can expect."
School board member Nury Martinez said she only learned about the arrest Thursday.
In a statement, she said that Chapel was removed from school in April but police told the district not to release any information to avoid compromising their investigation.
"I have been at Telfair all morning meeting with parents who are understandably angry and frustrated," Martinez said in a statement.
She was told that school officials will sent a letter explaining what happened and why information was not released.
At Miramonte, students returned to class for the first time Thursday since the entire 120-member staff was replaced in an unprecedented move by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Only 68 percent of the 948 expected students attended.
The day got off to a rough start with the teachers union president assailing the reassignment of teachers as a stunt and about 100 parents and students blasting the move.
United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher said teachers were being "tarred and stigmatized for no reason" and that grievances would be filed against the district on behalf of some 85 reassigned teachers.
Superintendent John Deasy said the makeover was needed to clear the school from a cloud of distrust and suspicion stemming from Berndt's arrest.
The new hires, which include a retired principal, 81 teachers and dozens of support staff, will cost the cash-strapped district $5.7 million, said district spokesman Thomas Waldman. The new staffers were recently laid off and were on a rehiring list.
The district also faces potentially millions of dollars in legal costs as lawsuits are filed. Three lawsuits were filed Tuesday, and claim notices have been filed for at least four other lawsuits.
A number of parents have opted to file lawsuits instead of going to sheriff's detectives because they are illegal immigrants and are afraid they'll be deported.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano said he will reintroduce a bill this month that will protect children and domestic violence victims from deportation.