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Los Angeles Unified Will Pay $139 Million to Victims of Child Abuse Scandal

By guest blogger Madeline Will

The Los Angeles Unified School District will pay $139 million in settlements to victims in the Miramonte Elementary School child abuse scandal, the district announced Friday.

The money will settle about 150 legal claims from former Miramonte students and their families. The students had been subjected to lewd acts from former 3rd grade teacher Mark Berndt.

The decision marks the ending of a lengthy, troubling case. Berndt, who had been described as a popular teacher at the school for 31 years, was arrested in January 2012. Last year, he pleaded no contest to the charges and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

"Our goal from the outset of these appalling revelations has been to spare the Miramonte community the anguish of a protracted trial, while at the same time being mindful of the financial consequences stemming from settlements," L. A. Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines said in a statement. "Given these circumstances, we believe we struck a balance between those objectives." 

Last year, the school district settled dozens of claims for $30 million. According to the Los Angeles Times, the remaining parents and students had taken their complaints to civil court, accusing the district of not doing enough to protect students after receiving past complaints about Berndt. 

Jury selection had started on Monday, but Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Shepard Wiley urged both parties to reach a settlement and avoid trial. 

Education Week covered the case and how the district handled the situation in the wake of Berndt's arrest. You can also read about the reporting requirements educators have for child abuse.

The Miramonte scandal roiled the community and led to a new California law meant to speed up the process for dismissing public school teachers for gross misconduct. The school district said it has also taken steps to better handle employee misconduct issues, including measures that will quicken both parental notification and the district's internal reporting structure to authorities. 

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