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“We Do the Best We Can”: Miramonte Moves Forward With Start of School Year

"In case anyone is wondering, we still have kids here, we still have teachers that want to teach, we still have people that care," Principal Martha Contreras told NBC4

As some 900 students are set to begin another full school year at Miramonte Elementary School in South Los Angeles, teachers and administrators on Monday prepared for a year they say continues progress forward.

"In case anyone is wondering, we still have kids here, we still have teachers that want to teach, we still have people that care," Principal Martha Contreras said.

Contreras was an assistant principal just after some 75 staff members were removed from the school in February 2012 after allegations of child abuse disrupted the entire school. She remained on staff through the transition and took the helm in fall 2012.

"Nothing is absolute," she said, wondering if the turmoil that boiled over back then could ever repeat itself. "We do the best we can but I hope that it never happens again."

As NBC4 reported in early 2012, the community around Miramonte Elementary erupted in outrage over allegations of child abuse by two teachers: Mark Berndt and Martin Springer.

The most egregious allegations claimed Berndt had fed his own semen to students by the spoonful or on cookies in a twisted "tasting game."

Springer's allegations stemmed from claims of lewd acts with a minor; his charges, however, were later dropped while Berndt pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

On campus now, there is very little talk of what happened.


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Berndt's classroom no longer exists but no one was able to explain why.

The principal said she was unsure which room was his. An LAUSD spokesman said Berndt's classroom may have been one of the mobile units removed from campus when attendance dropped after the schools went to a traditional calendar year.

Sean Rossall on behalf of LAUSD pointed to improvements the District has done to protect children since the 2012 allegations came to light.

"The school district adopted a 72-hour parental notification policy to ensure that parents are notified when an employee is removed due to allegations of misconduct," he said, adding that parents must be notified within that window of time unless the district is ordered by law enforcement not to do so.

Rossall also points to the establishment of a "Student Safety Investigative Team," the result of LAUSD Board Member Tamar Galatzan’s resolution on safety.

"This team is comprised of experienced investigators and is responsible for looking into the more complex cases of misconduct," Rossall said.

In a statement to NBC4, he added that the District actively supports state legislation to streamline the process to dismiss teachers who have committed misconduct and that LAUSD has created a data warehouse to centralize employee information and documents.

Parents outside Miramonte on Monday preparing to send their children to school tomorrow for the first time this school year said they know the history of what happened inside the walls of this Title 1 school, but hope the focus moves now towards the future and improving test scores.

Contreras likes to tout that aspect as the school prepares for its first full year of the Common Core Curriculum. She said the school's API score jumped 32 points between the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years, and that the District awarded the school with $3,000 for winning the superintendent's attendance challenge.

"All of our families who are here, they want to be here," Contreras said. "They take pride in their school."

Meantime, civil litigation in the Miramonte court cases continues. A judge last week pushed the trial date back to Nov. 4. More students and their parents have filed claims against LAUSD for what they claim was failing to protect the children against Berndt and Springer.

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