LAUSD Faced With Another Child Sex Abuse Lawsuit - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

LAUSD Faced With Another Child Sex Abuse Lawsuit

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Wilmington, CA -

(CNS) - A lawsuit filed today alleges past and present Los Angeles Unified School District officials covered up suspected child abuse at Miramonte Elementary School and elsewhere.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of dozens of children and parents in the Miramonte case, comes on the heels of another case of alleged sexual abuse of school children, this time involving Robert Pimentel, a former teacher at George De La Torre Jr. Elementary in Wilmington.

The complaint alleges that the defendants -- including LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, the current Board of Education, two former principals at Miramonte and former Superintendent Ramon Cortines -- "ignored or negligently failed to detect massive abuse by, at one time, three active serial child molesters working on one small elementary school campus for over twenty years," according to plaintiffs' attorney Brian Claypool.

As a result, a dozen children -- identified in the suit by their initials -- suffered "emotional damage ... and injury caused by the horrific memories of lewd, depraved and lascivious acts" allegedly committed by now-jailed ex-Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt, the lawsuit alleges.

According to the complaint, "teachers, teacher's aides, and/or administrative personnel hired, retained, supervised and employed" by the LAUSD were aware of the alleged abuse by Berndt, Pimentel and now-jailed Miramonte teacher's aide Ricardo Guevara, and "failed/refused to take any action to prevent the harm alleged herein from occurring."

Berndt, 62, has pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of lewd conduct involving alleged assaults on students at the elementary school. Berndt was removed from the classroom in January 2011 and fired the following month.

Guevara was convicted of lewd acts with a child in 2006 and is serving 15 years to life in prison.

LAUSD General Counsel David Holmquist responded that while he cannot comment on pending cases, the district has been involved in a comprehensive review of how sexual abuse allegations are handled.

"The school district is committed to providing a safe environment for students to learn and thrive," he said. "Appropriately addressing misconduct continues to remain a top priority. That is why we have continually engaged in extensive internal and external reviews of our policies and practices, including actively participating in the comprehensive state audit of the school district's policies and practices that was released in 2012.

"While we cannot comment on the specifics of the De La Torre case given the active criminal investigation, we have and will continue to work to make our schools even safer," Holmquist said.

Holmquist said LAUSD student safety efforts in the past year include an update of the district's methods for reporting alleged misconduct to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing; the addition of specialists to advise on misconduct issues and bolster student safety; and a 72-hour parental notification policy for allegations of employee misconduct.

Also, the LAUSD is working with Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys, on legislation to allow faster dismissal of teachers accused of abuse, Holmquist said.

Pimentel, 57, has pleaded not guilty to eight counts of continuous sexual abuse and seven counts of lewd acts upon a child, involving alleged assaults of 12 children under age 14. Police said he is suspected of assaulting as many as 20 children and one adult.

LAUSD officials said Pimentel was removed from the classroom in March 2012 at the onset of the investigation. The district tried to fire him, but Pimentel retired, ensuring that he will receive his district pension.

A report issued last month by the California State Auditor concluded that the LAUSD failed to properly report at least 144 cases of teacher misconduct to state authorities.

Lawsuits were also filed last year on behalf of other former Miramonte students and their mothers.

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