Miramonte Sex Abuse Civil Cases Settled for Record Amount: Nearly $140 Million
by Melissa Pamer and Chris Wolfe
November 21, 2014

  A settlement worth nearly $140 million was announced Friday between LAUSD and the families of 82 victims of former longtime Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, who fed semen-laced cookies to his students and committed many other lewd acts.

  The settlement of the victims’ lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District was worth $139,750,000, according to a press release from the plaintiffs attorneys announcing an early afternoon news conference.

  Though there was some dispute about the exact figure, attorneys for both sides said they believed the amount was the largest-ever settlement involving a school district.

  “It’s not a happy day. It’s gratifying, but we’re here because over 100 children were subjected to horrific abuse,” said plaintiffs attorney John Manly outside the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.

  Manly called the crimes at Miramonte Elementary “nothing less than emotional mass murder,” and said the settlement indicated that the school district acknowledged that.

  Berndt, 63, worked at Miramonte Elementary in the South Los Angeles area from 1979 to 2011. He pleaded no contest last year to 23 counts of lewd conduct upon a child and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

  Berndt’s conduct was revealed by authorities in January 2012 after his photos showing blindfolded children were discovered by a photo technician, prompting a yearlong Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department investigation. He was accused of serving spoonfuls of semen and semen-laced cookies to his students, sometimes blindfolding them as part of a “tasting game.” He also took photos of them with giant cockroaches on their faces.

  There were “two perpetrators,” Manly said: Berndt and administrators who ignored or concealed his behavior for decades, resulting in harm to “multiple generations” of students.

   “I cannot imagine what it would be like for a parent to try to explain their little girl or their little boy that they ate their teacher’s semen,” Manly continued. “I can’t explain it. I was going to have a difficult time explaining it to a jury. How does a parent explain that?”

  The case prompted outrage and created a massive scandal for the school district, which has since implemented changes to how it handles employee misconduct allegations and how those cases are reviewed and reported to the state.

  No school district representatives spoke on camera about the settlement Friday, but LAUSD Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines said in a statement that the settlement deal “struck a balance” between two objectives.

  “Our goal from the outset of these appalling revelations has been to spare the Miramonte community the anguish of a protracted trial, while at the same time being mindful of the financial consequences stemming from settlements,” Cortines said in the written statement.

  “Throughout this case, we have shared in the pain felt by these children, their families and the community. Each day, we are responsible for the safety of more than 600,000 students. There is a sacred trust put in us to protect the children we serve. While we know Mr. Berndt went to extreme lengths to hide his conduct, we know that our job protecting students is never done,” Cortines continued.

  The deal comes as jury selection was underway in one of several Miramonte-related civil lawsuits against LAUSD, which is the nation’s second-largest school district.

  Recently revealed court documents showed the district knew about allegations against Berndt beginning in 1983, the Los Angeles Times reported.

  Shortly after plaintiffs attorneys announced the deal Friday morning, LAUSD issued a statement saying it had “resolved the remaining Miramonte litigation at issue for a total of $139,250,000.”

  The reason for the $500,000 discrepancy between the attorneys’ and the district’s figures was not immediately clear, but a spokesman for the school district said court documents show the lower figure.

  An independent process has been established that will allow the judge to review each individual claim and assign the appropriate settlement amount to each plaintiff, the district said.

  Some parents of students at Miramonte had accepted a separate $30 million settlement for 65 cases last year and earlier this year, but many families chose to proceed with their civil cases.

  The funds for the settlement will come out of the district’s general fund, but LAUSD will seek reimbursement from its insurers, according to district General Counsel David Holmquist.

  “We’ve been using taxpayer money to pay premiums on these various policies covering a number of school issues,” Holmquist said. “We believe this case is an appropriate claim and we expect these insurance companies to step up and reimburse us to some degree.”


Ex-teacher who force fed students his own semen gets 25 years in jail

  Mark Berndt, 62, a former teacher with the Los Angeles school district, pleaded no contest on Nov. 15, 2013 to 23 felony counts of lewd acts on 23 of his former young students at Miramonte Elementary School.
  CNN reported that Berndt was “immediately sentenced to 25 years in prison.”
  Berndt, who had taught at the elementary school for 30 years, was jailed in Feb. 2012 after being accused of spoon-feeding his own semen to his students. During his initial hearing, it was revealed that he also bound and blindfolded dozens of students while photographing them for his sexual pleasure.
  Capt. Mike Parker of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said that Berndt originally told his students they were playing a "tasting game."

  Some photos show children with a giant live cockroach crawling on their faces; others show a blue plastic spoon allegedly filled with Berndt's semen held up to their mouths, authorities said.
  The sick stunts behind Berndt's 23 counts of lewd acts against children took place between 2005 and 2010, authorities said.

  The victims of Berndt’s sexual molestation included 22 girls and one boy between the ages of 7 and 10.
  The Los Angeles Unifed School District (LAUSD) paid out almost $27.3 million to settle 58 of 191 students' lawsuits brought against the district by Berndt’s victims.
  The ex-teacher reportedly fed his students cookies covered with his own semen, but told the students the white substance was sugar. Parents of the kids are saying now that their children will never be able to eat cookies again.

  "He deserves to be punished," one mother said in her statement to the court. "Back in the day, you burned them in wood."

For more on Mark Berndt's no contest plea, see the video accompanying this article.