It started with the arrest of Miramonte school teacher Mark Berndt and has snowballed from there, with at least six LAUSD employees being arrested for sex-related crimes. Patrick Healy reports some vital information about when a teacher's past falls through the cracks.
Allegations of teachers committing sex crimes against California children increased last year, even though total teacher misconduct complaints declined, according to figures compiled by the state's Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
During the 2010-11 school year, the commission opened 129 cases involving allegations of sexual crimes against children. That was up from 112 cases the previous year.
Over the same period, there was also an increase in the number of allegations of non-sexual crimes against children – from 234 to 254.
In contrast, the total number of cases opened for all reasons declined – from 5,662 to 5,400, according to figures published in the Workload Report for the Divisions of Professional Practices Discipline.
Authorities have seen a surge in complaints in recent weeks since a longtime teacher at Miramonte Elementary School, Mark Berndt, was arrested and charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct.
Former substitute teacher Jorge Hernandez was investigated for suspected crimes at three schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. After a third case in 2007, he was compelled to leave.
However, this was not reported to the Credentialing Commission, and Hernandez found work with the Inglewood school district.
The commission is empowered to suspend or revoke the credentials of teachers once they are suspected of a crime or other serious misconduct, and removed from the classroom.
Whether notification was made within the required 30 days of change in employment status has come into question in two of the high profile cases coming to light in the glare of the Miramonte uproar.
While teaching third grade at Inglewood's Beulah Payne Elementary School in 2008, Hernandez allegedly molested an 8-year-old girl, according to Sanford Jossen, the attorney who has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the girl and her mother.
"How many times does one have to hear someone yell, 'fire,’'' Jossen said.
Hernandez was arrested in 2010 after he drove to another school, Gage Elementary in Huntington Park, and allegedly exposed himself to children outside.
During a post-arrest search of his home, authorities found videos they characterized as child pornography. Jossen's suit states that one of the videos depicts the molestation of the girl at Payne Elementary.
Hernandez jumped bail prior to a 2010 hearing, and is believed to have fled to Jalisco, Mexico, to escape prosecution.
In the Berndt case, after he was removed from his classroom at the beginning of 2011, a year elapsed before LAUSD reported this to the Credentialing Commission.
Supt. John Deasy acknowledged the error and said his district would renew efforts to comply with the reporting requirements.
The Commission revoked the credentials of 267 teachers during the 2010-11 school year, only one more than the previous year, and suspended 243 – an increase of 36.
The Credentialing Commission's awareness of cases relies on reports from outside agencies, including law enforcement and school districts.