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Local Schools Tackle Teacher-Student Sex Abuse in Wake of LAUSD Scandal

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All staff at South L.A. Miramonte Elementary replaced

By Chris Levister –

The teacher-student sexual abuse allegations currently roiling the Los Angeles Unified School District is drawing condemnation from around the globe and forcing the nation’s schools to confront a long simmering issue head on.

In an interview with the Black Voice News, San Bernardino City Unified School District Board President Danny Tillman said inappropriate sexual behavior between a teacher or other school personnel and a student violates federal and state and local zero tolerance guidelines, is subject to criminal prosecution and “will not be tolerated - ever.”

Speaking hours after LAUSD officials announced the two-day closure of Miramonte Elementary School in South L.A. and the replacement of its ent ire staff, Tillman sought to calm local fears and engage parents in protecting kids against sexual abuse.

“First we want to make it clear that any adult misconduct or sexual abuse in schools is of grave concern to students, parents, educators, ther school personnel are devoted to their job and would never intentionally harm their students,” he said.

The L.A. Unified School District replaced the ent ire 130-person staff at Miramonte Elementary this week where two teachers were arrested on suspicion of lewd conduct last week.

The changes will affect everyone from the principal to secretaries to teachers to custodians.

Superintendent John Deasy told parents and media the unprecedented action was taken because a full investigation of allegations is disruptive.

The move follows the arrest of two Miramonte teachers. Mark Berndt was charged last week with committing lewd acts on 23 children, and Martin Springer was arrested Friday on suspicion of fondling two girls in his classroom.

A sign wrapped around the front gate of the school read, “We the parents demand our children be protected from lewd teachers at LAUSD.”

The closing comes as the Los Angeles Police Department launches at least two other sexual abuse investigations including one at Hamilton High School.

According to LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith Monday, the LAPD is looking into allegations that a music magnet teacher, 59-year-old Vance Miller, showered naked with students at a local gym.

“The department is looking into Smith after a former student reported that Miller showered with him and two other students when he was a 17-year-old junior,” said Smith.

In another case Paul Adame, 37, a janitor employed at Germain Street Elementary School in Chatsworth was arrested Sunday for lewd acts against a chi ld after a mother reported inappropriate contact between Adame and her chi ld, according to LAPD spokesman Cleon Joseph.

There are more than 7.2 million public school teachers and other school personnel nationwide, most devoted to their work. Yet the number of abusive educators — nearly three for every school day — according to the U.S. Department of Education, speaks to a much larger problem. Experts say most of the abuse never gets reported. Those cases reported often end with no action.

Cases investigated sometimes can't be proven, and many abusers have several victims. Critics argue too much weight is put on children’s stories. To which Tillman responds, “The child is always right until proven wrong.”

Standing outside a 6-foot wrought-iron gate encircling the Anton Elementary School in San Bernardino, parents waiting for their children expressed fear that like Miramonte, mostly Spanish speaking working class neighborhoods will be targeted.

(Anton Elementary School is not the subject of teacher-student sex allegations or sexual abuse). Many of the people in this neighborhood struggle to speak English said Alicia Gonzales. “The kids don’t understand the seriousness of inappropriate sexual advances by someone they have been taught to trust.”

In a mix of Spanish and English another parent added, “construyen grandes puertas para mantener los malos fuera pero que mira en el interior.” (“They build big gates to keep the bad guys out, but who watches those on the inside?”) U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the last 20 years on civil rights and sex discrimination have opened schools up to potentially huge financial punishments for abuses, which have driven many schools to act. School districts can be held liable for sexual abuse, assault, and molestation crimes committed by its employees on students, U.S. Supreme Court , 1977 (Ingraham v. Wright).

Teachers hold a position of authority over their students and it is their responsibility to properly supervise them and not take advantage of that power. Unfortunately, sexual abuse by teachers does happen.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 6-10% of public school kids have been sexually harassed or abused by teachers or school employees.

Child sexual abuse and assault also has been known to take place at private schools. In 2007, the Associated Press reported that between 2001 and 2005, 2,570 educators had their teaching credentials denied, sanctioned, surrendered, or revoked because of sexual misconduct allegations. In at least 1,801 of the alleged cases, young people were the victims (over 80% were students). Even if a minor consents to the sexual relationship, it is still against California law for an adult to have sex with a minor.

Tillman says the district’s efforts to prevent educator misconduct occurs on multiple fronts to include requiring background checks on teachers, fingerprinting, anti-abuse in-school and online guidelines and classes and mandatory reporting of abuse, though there are still loopholes and a lack of coordination among districts and states.

Tillman said the District relies on fingerprint checks which are done when educators apply for or renew their licenses every five years. The District also subscribes to state and national law enforcement and judicial networks, which has up-to-date information on school personnel.

“We will continue to aggressively investigate problem teachers and refer concerns to the District Attorney when appropriate,” Tillman said.

He adds that schools can only be successful in preventing teacher sexual abuse if parents are on board.

“Parents must teach their children how to recognize and respond to inappropriate behavior,” said Tillman.

“We need the eyes and ears of everyone to tell someone, tell the civil authorities, make sure a kid's safe - that's the bottom line.”

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