Student Safety

| Gazette, Student Journals | March 19, 2012

Student Safety
By Jenny Lee, ninth grade

Mark Berndt and Martin Springer, teachers at Miramonte Elementary School in southern Los Angeles, have recently been charged with student abuse.

Berndt had been teaching for over 30 years and committed crimes from 2008 to 2010 involving 23 students. Berndt, unmarried with no children, was arrested and fired after authorities gained pictures of his misconducts.

Later, Springer was charged with three cases of abusing a girl who is under the age of 14.

“[Berndt] wasn’t only a teacher. He was our personal friend. He tricked us. We thought he was the best person in the world,” said parent Bessy Garcia.

Many parents were disgusted with Berndt and Springer’s acts, but were more upset knowing that the school had not notified them earlier, although they were conducting an investigation for over a year.

Miramonte, though, was unaware of Berndt’s actions. No children admitted to Berndts’ abuse.

“They didn’t know they were being violated in that manner and …thought it was a game,” said Sheriff’s Lieutenant Carlos Marquez to Breitbart.

Children who are naïve and are victims to abuse may also have their own reasons for not confessing.

“A general fear is that people aren’t going to believe them. That’s why predators look to students who are more quiet and reserved,” said West Ranch parent Kim Downing.

Miramonte’s student population consists of 98 percent Latinos and two percent African Americans; therefore, it is also believed that some parents who knew about the abuse did not step forward due to fear of deportation.

But Miramonte Elementary is not the only school where teachers have broken the promise of safety to students. Even more than a decade ago, a New York Daily News article stated that between Sept. of 1994 and June, 1995, there were 397 cases of verbal and physical abuse inNew York Citypublic schools.  Slate said that according to the best available study, 10 percent of students encounter sexual abuse during their school lives. To minimize the amount of sexual abuse, theWilliamS.HartSchool Districttakes specific precautions.

“On our school website is a sexual harassment test that [school staff members] take and [they] print a certificate and submit it to the principal’s secretary. Everyone has to have a certificate  and it is required yearly. Coaches have to do it and even volunteers have to do it,”Wilsonsaid.

What happens if a school employee walking across West Ranch is guilty of abuse?

“We would have to get a complaint or a report of this misconduct of the teacher then we notify the teacher and we have to let them know what the allegations are. Then we notify the district that we got this report. We would do the investigation of the allegations to make sure everything is correct or incorrect or what’s going on. We interview anyone and everyone possible if there are names given to us. We interview the teacher and pass all that information to the district,” said assistant principal Bryan Wilson.

Though at West Ranch teachers who are being investigated are only sent on absences, schools in other districts may send teachers to the rubber room, heavily guarded red trailers where they join teachers who are in similar situations. These teachers still receive a salary although they do not do anything.

“But once we get allegations, or we hear of allegations, we investigate quickly and effectively to secure the safety of everyone involved. And the key thing is we have to do an investigation on the teacher side and on the victim side. You just have to be very sensitive to both sides of the story,” said Wilson.


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