Antonio Castelan and Scott Meadows
The arrest of a veteran teacher at an LAUSD Elementary School left parents angry and confused.
Parents voiced their displeasure Tuesday with school administrators at a South Los Angeles elementary school where a teacher was arrested after a film processor provided authorities with disturbing photographs involving school children.
Former teacher Mark Berndt was fired from Miramonte Elementary School soon after an investigation began about one year ago, according to the LA County Sheriff’s Department.
In some of the photos in question, Berndt had his arm around the children or a hand over their mouths. In others, kids were blindfolded in a classroom with tape over their mouths, authorities said.
Deborah Harmon, whose 7-year-old granddaughter goes to the elementary, could not believe school administrators took about a year to notify parents of the allegations.
"It’s a sense of violation and betrayal because you think that your children are safe when you send them to school but they’re not safe," Harmon said.
Parent Anna Arias said she, too, believes parents should have been told why Berndt was fired from the school. She also questioned the hesitation of the children involved to discuss what happened with their parents.
"How were kids not able to talk to their parents about what’s going on? That’s what my reaction is," said Arias. "You have to ask your kid every day, how was school? How was the teacher with you?"
Miramonte Elementary Principal Martin Sandoval responded to parent's disapproval of administration's decision to withhold the information. He said that the school lets the law enforcement complete its investigation before notifying parents.
"My sympathies go out to the parents," Sandoval added.
Investigators said they needed the entire year to gather evidence against Berndt, including DNA samples and search warrants at his home.
Patty Castro was a student of Berndt’s fifth-grade class some 30 years ago and said nothing inappropriate happened involving her at time.
"He was a good teacher," she said. "He was unorthodox but he was a good teacher."
Still, some parents like Harmon are taking their own action to gain a better sense of security for their children.
"We had no warning and my granddaughter will be out of this school," said Harmon. “She is not staying here.”