SOUTH LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Parents of students at a South L.A. school are disgusted and outraged after a teacher was arrested for allegedly taking lewd photos of dozens of children.
Mark Berndt, a 61-year-old teacher at Miramonte Elementary School, reportedly took photos of students bound and gagged in his classroom. Some photos show cockroaches being placed on the students’ faces. Others are being fed a milky-white substance on a spoon that lab tests confirm tested positive for the teacher’s DNA.
The lewd acts allegedly occurred between 2008 and 2010, according to the sheriff’s department.
Police said the horrifying allegations only came to light after a photo processing technician saw the photos when Berndt went to get them printed in January 2011. Commercial film developers are obligated by law to report child pornography to police.
After uncovering the nearly 300 photos, investigators then used DNA evidence to connect Berndt to the victims. They found spoons in the instructor’s trash — similar to the ones used in the photos — that reportedly contained Berndt’s bodily fluid.
“The day that it was brought to my attention we removed him from his assignment,” Deasy told KNX 1070.
Berndt was fired last January and, given school policy, was able to resign soon after — a move that allows long-time teachers to keep their pension.
The former teacher was arrested at his home in Torrance on Monday.
KNX 1070’s John Brooks reports parents like Kimberly Kirkland — who has 2 kids that attended Miramonte and one child who is still a student — are outraged over the district’s failure to notify the community.
“I’m angry, I’m very angry, and I’m disappointed,” said Kirkland. “This is an embarrassment to the community. I feel like they should have sent some sort of newsletter out or should have placed a phone call.”
Students who were allegedly victimized by the teacher have been given “psychological support” and guidance counseling over the course of last year, Deasy said.
School officials said law enforcement asked them to not comment until the investigation was over.
“I trusted this man so I don’t know who to trust,” said Lois Segoviana, whose son was a student in Berndt’s class 15 years ago.
Segoviana said she blames the school district, along with Berndt, for what allegedly happened, claiming that if there weren’t so many budget cuts in place there could have been more teacher aides to deter this sort of behavior.
The superintendent would not confirm whether the abuse was committed during school hours, but said that no sex acts were involved.
One mother said school officials indicated that the alleged incident happened during the after-school program.
Deasy did confirm that there was overwhelming evidence to justify terminating the teacher.
“We fired him on the spot on the evidence of the photographs, not where it happened,” he said. “It makes no difference to me where it happened, it happened.”
Berndt is being held in solitary confinement and on $2.3 million bail.