LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A firestorm of controversy erupted Friday when it was revealed that the Los Angeles Unified School District had entered into a $40,000 settlement with a former Miramonte Elementary School teacher — accused among other things of blindfolding his students and feeding them his bodily fluids — in a sexual abuse scandal that has rocked Los Angeles.
The LAUSD released the following statement regarding the controversial settlement:
“The Los Angeles Unified School District’s decision to settle with former Miramonte Elementary School teacher, Mark Berndt, last June was the most immediate way to ensure he would no longer be an employee of the District and guarantee he would not be a threat to any other student in LAUSD.
When the Board of Education initiated steps to fire Berndt in February 2011, Berndt immediately fought his dismissal through an appeal hearing process with the State Office of Administrative Hearings, which every permanent certificated employee has the right to under the Education Code.
During the appeal process the responsibility lies with the District to present evidence and witnesses to justify the dismissal of a teacher, and in the case of Berndt, to demonstrate that he is unfit to be a teacher in LAUSD.
However, through no control of the District, law enforcement agencies did not allow the District access to any evidence or witnesses so as to prevent interference with the criminal investigation. Similarly, the District was prohibited by law enforcement from conducting its own investigation or gathering evidence for purposes of the dismissal hearing. Consequently, LAUSD was left with no evidence to successfully present a case to dismiss Berndt. As a District, we would not want to compromise any criminal investigation surrounding an alleged perpetrator.
Given this restraint, LAUSD also ran the risk of losing the appeal process and as a consequence, being forced to retain Berndt as an employee of LAUSD. In light of this potential risk, the LAUSD’s most prudent and viable option was to settle.
Our main priority is always the safety and well being of our students and providing them a safe learning environment.
Settling for $40,000 to pay the approximately five months of salary Berndt would have otherwise been statutorily entitled to and other related expenses was a guaranteed result given the uncertainties of the dismissal process and the inability to access evidence in this dismissal matter.
The State’s current teacher dismissal framework makes it extremely difficult to terminate unfit teachers like Berndt, thus requiring the District to find other viable options to ensure the safety of our students.”