Protecting students from classroom predators

March 13, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
The disturbing case of Mark Berndt, the Miramonte Elementary School teacher accused of 23 counts of lewd conduct, is the inspiration of several Republican bills in Sacramento to make it easier to fire educators. They come at the urging of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LA Unified.

"You would never imagine that children would be threatened by the predators in a classroom, but that's what happened in the tragedy at Miramonte Elementary School. The unspeakable crimes that these students were victims of must never happen again anywhere," said Assm. Connie Conway of Tulare.

Investigators say Berndt photographed blind-folded students being fed his semen during what he called a "tasting game." The 61-year-old had been accused of misconduct before, but Republicans say statewide union-backed laws and contract clauses in some districts prevent administrators from doing anything.

The proposed changes include removing the "Four Year Rule" so that evidence of past wrongdoings is held longer, allow dismissal with no pay, and strip pension and retirement benefits from teachers convicted of a job-related felony. Berndt was able to resign, negotiate a settlement of $40,000 and receive a pension of nearly $4,000 a month, as well as lifetime health benefits. GOP lawmakers say that's wrong. "Whether you're a public employee and you're going to commit these crimes, we will not continue to pay your retirement costs," said Assm. Cameron Smythe of Santa Clarita.

At an event where the California Teachers Association and other education groups pleaded for no more budget cuts, representatives said current laws are sufficient to deal with misconduct. "You can look at the recent actions and where we've discovered abuse, we have, in fact, had the tools to deal with that. We've acted quickly and laws have not gotten in the way," said Bob Wells with the Association of California School Administrators.

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