Saying the LA Unified School District "missed major warning bells," a lawyer representing students allegedly abused by a Miramonte Elementary School teacher announced on Friday the filing of damage claims against the nation's second largest school district.
Attorney Luis Carrillo made the announcement on behalf of 13 parents and 20 children, six of them among the 23 victims named as victims alleged in the criminal complaint.
"The school did not protect the children," Carrillo said during a press conference in front of LAUSD headquarters in downtown L.A. "There was major, major warning signs - major alarm bells ringing off throughout the years."
Carrillo contends the LA School District was negligent in not taking action sooner against Berndt, the former Miramonte teacher charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct dating to 2005.
It was six years later that he was removed from the classroom. Carrillo cited media revelations that parents had raised questions about Berndt's conduct as far back as 1991.
Carrillo said the case is all about "the negligence of the school district that fell asleep and did not protect our kids."
Carrillo would not say if any of the families he represents had complained about Berndt prior to
the announcement of his arrest at the end of January.
Carrillo hopes the claim - a precursor to a lawsuit - will force the district to improve training for the district's teachers, faculty and staff when abuse against students is alleged.
LAUSD officials declined to comment, citing district policy against making statements on pending lawsuits.
Carrillo joins at least two other lawyers representing Miramonte families alleging abuse.
Attorney Brian Claypool alleged “a massive cover-up” by the school district that allowed abusive behavior for two decades.
Claypool's claim seeks damages for emotional distress and calls on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to broaden its investigation into the the school going back 20 years, after a student reportedly made the first complaint about Berndt’s alleged inappropriate behavior.
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In his claim, attorney Raymond Boucher alleged the district “did not take adequate steps to prevent the abuse from occurring over and over again.”