Parents Protest At Scandalized LA Grade School

Published February 7, 2012 12:36AM (EST)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Many children stayed home Monday while parents demanded more protection at an elementary school where two teachers are suspected of molesting students in class.

More than a quarter of the students at Miramonte Elementary School were absent, with attendance reaching just 72 percent, according to figures from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

About three dozen parents and supporters protested in front of the main doors off the school, some carrying a banner that read, "We the parents demand our children be protected from lewd teacher acts."

School police watched and sheriff's deputies were on hand, but there was no violence.

The district set up a toll-free hotline on Monday to receive reports of suspected abuse at Miramonte, said school board President Monica Garcia in a statement.

Garcia added that the district would step up efforts to ensure students and staff realized the importance of reporting misconduct.

In the same school district, a janitor at a San Fernando Valley elementary school was arrested on suspicion of committing a lewd act with a child on a campus.

Paul Adame, 37, was taken into custody after a mother told police on Sunday that he had inappropriate contact with her child during school hours Friday at Germain Elementary School in the Chatsworth area north of Los Angeles, police Capt. Kris Pitcher said at a news conference.

The captain declined to provide details but urged anyone who might know of other possible victims to contact police.

Adame was booked and released on $100,000 bail Monday. It could not be immediately determined if he had an attorney.

There was no immediate connection between the arrest of the janitor and the cases at Miramonte, which is 15 miles away in an unincorporated county area of South Los Angeles.

The Miramonte protesters demanded greater communication with education officials and the placement of cameras in classrooms and hallways.

Arianna Perez, 30, also wants a new principal and teachers, or at least a new round of background checks for the 50 or so instructors. She kept her two sons out of the school on Monday.

"I'm not letting them in (school)," she said of her children. "They're scared to be in. I'm not going to put them in risk of (teachers) doing something to them."

Neither of her boys was a student of the two teachers named in the allegations.

"I don't want to go to the school anymore," said son Luis, 11. "I feel unsafe, and I feel like something bad's going to happen, like what happened to others."

The protest was an unusual event in the poor, overwhelmingly Latino neighborhood, where many parents and students struggle with the English language.

Many people finally gathered around former state senator-turned-lawyer Martha Escutia, who lectured them in Spanish about how to organize for the media and suggested a catchy name for their fledgling movement: Mothers of Miramonte.

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy planned a 6 p.m. Monday meeting with Miramonte parents on a nearby high school campus. The school board met in a hastily called closed session Monday morning to discuss the Miramonte case, said district spokesman Tom Waldman.

School officials canceled classes at the school on Tuesday and Wednesday as a cooling-off period, Waldman said.

Last week, teacher Mark Berndt, 61, who worked at the school for 32 years, was charged with committing lewd acts on 23 children, ages 6 to 10, between 2005 and 2010.

The acts cited by authorities include blindfolding children and feeding them his own semen in his classroom in what children were allegedly told was a tasting game.

Berndt remains jailed on $23 million bail and could face life in prison if convicted.

Four days later another teacher, Martin Springer, 49, was arrested on suspicion of fondling two girls in his classroom. He was being held on $2 million bail.

Springer taught at Miramonte for his entire career, which started in 1986, the district said. He taught second grade.

The school board is scheduled to discuss firing him in a closed-door meeting on Tuesday.

Investigators said they know of no connection between the Miramonte cases. Berndt and Springer know each other and took their classes on at least two joint field trips in the past decade, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Attorney Luis Carrillo came to the 1,400-student campus to announce he had filed a claim Monday against the school district on behalf of two girls and a boy who allegedly were victims of Berndt between 2008 and 2010. A claim is a precursor to a lawsuit.

Two other attorneys have also announced plans to sue the district.

By Salon Staff

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