LOS ANGELES — The entire staff at a Los Angeles school is being replaced while investigators probe a growing abuse scandal involving a teacher who allegedly spoon-fed his semen to children as young as six. The move comes as parents fear a cover-up and try to understand why it took police more than a year to arrest Mark Berndt, a 61-year-old teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in eastern Los Angeles.
Berndt allegedly took photos of 23 blindfolded and gagged children with cockroaches on their faces and spoons of semen on their mouths between 2005 and 2011. More than 40 photographs of the alleged abuse were handed to the authorities by the person processing the film in January 2011 but Berndt was only arrested last week and charged on 23 criminal counts. A second teacher at the school, 49-year-old Martin Springer, was charged on Tuesday with committing inappropriate acts on a child during a three-month period in 2009, CNN reported. Pupils and parents marched to the school on Tuesday with some demonstrating against the decision to remove all the teachers but others denouncing what they called a “cover up” and asking “who can we trust?” Top LA education official John Deasy said the school would be shuttered until Thursday when the entire staff of 150 — teachers, administrative workers, secretaries and security guards — would be replaced by a new roster. Staff found to have played no part in the abuse may eventually be reinstated, the LA Times reported, adding that Springer and Berndt knew each other and had taken students on at least two field trips together. “As an educator and a father, I’m appalled and sickened by the allegations against this teacher,” Deasy said of Berndt. Berndt was removed from teaching duty a week after the photos surfaced in January 2011. A lawyer for one of the alleged victims told the New York Daily News on Tuesday that a female teacher “had aided and abetted” the abuse by removing students from classes and escorting them to Berndt.