August 24th, 2012
01:50 AM ET

Special Interests Over Child Interests?

AC360° reported in February on Miramonte elementary school in Los Angeles, California where former teacher Mark Berndt allegedly committed abuses against young students. The accusations were documented by photographs taken inside classrooms. Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman Sgt. Dan Scott told CNN at the time that the young students 'didn't realize they were victimized,' and added 'they thought they were being blindfolded and gagged as a game,'

Even with the police charges against him, the California school district was not able to fire him. Instead of suspending him with pay pending a hearing, they chose to pay him to resign.

California lawmakers recently drafted a bill to protect kids, but the bill failed passage in the California state assembly.

CNN's Kyung Lah reports.

Filed under: Education • Keeping Them Honest • Kyung Lah
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Joann D.

    I am an educator here in CA, and I must say that I was surprised at your piece on education, so I'm doing something that I never do is respond to an attack on my profession. That being said, I was sadden to hear in your report on the teacher's union and not the LAUSD administrators. Before I continue let me say that the horrific crime that this teacher is accused of is one of the worst crimes that I've heard of against students. Now,back to my point. The administrators were and are responsible for handling situations when teachers are accused. There are already regulations in place. To accuse the teacher's union is just wrong, when the blame lies clearly at the feet of the suprentindent and other administrators. There is a processs in place, but it was ignored for a quick fix by the admini

    August 25, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  2. Amarie

    Although the acts of which the LA teacher is accused are reprehensible, I think the key word here is "accused". What happened to being innocent until proven guilty in a court of law? Are teachers not guaranteed the same rights as other Americans? We seem very willing to accuse and convict people on sound bites instead of allowing due process.

    August 24, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
  3. Karen

    This nation is built on the basic premise that people are innocent until guilt is proven. Yes, the ACCUSED individual should be rwmoved from the classrroom. There are, as stated, procedures in place to guarantee the accused rights to due process while protecting the students. What has campaign contributions to do with this legal process?

    August 24, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  4. Leslie

    Not sure how this is going beyond the headlines when the actual proposed bill was never looked at in any type of detail. Had questions been raised about whether this law addressed the disgusting situation that took place at Miramontes then maybe it would have gone "beyond the headlines." Had it done that, they would have discovered that current law does exist to remove teachers from classrooms who do things like that. Other districts besides LAUSD have been successful in doing just that. Had it looked further at the situation at Miramontes, it would also have been discovered that Deasy and the LAUSD administration should have reported this person to the state so his credential could have been revoked and yet they failed to do that. Current law requires it and yet they did not follow current law. Where is the outrage about that? Where is the outrage that the bill did nothing to fix that. And where was the coverage on CTA trying to work with the author on amendments to the bill that did streamline dismissal procedures. Why is it only that one side is blamed for the bill not passing instead of other contributing factors?

    August 24, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
  5. debbie

    Please make sure you check the facts before attacking cta. It is a myth that unions and tenure do not allow teachers to be fired. Tenure and unions provide teachers with the right to due process...innocent until proven guilty. It is the responsibility of administrators to know what their staff is and is not doing. Until recently administrators rarely if ever entered classrooms unless scheduled for a formal evaluation. And in the case of miramonte...removing good teachers from their school because of what a predator did is unfair and unjust. It is guilt by association and not protecting the children, but hurting them by taking away those teachers that are stable influences in their lives. Shame on lauds for mishandling this situation and punishing the innocent for the crimes of the guilty

    August 24, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
  6. grglndr

    Does it make sense that a teacher should be fired for merely being accused of even heinous crimes should be fired?
    A teacher that is guilty of such crimes should certainly be fired. While an investigation for such things is ongoing, it makes sense to suspend a teacher. I simply do not think it reasonable to short circuit the process in place because of accusation.

    August 24, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  7. Barbara Franklin

    Under current law Superintendent Deasy and LAUSD were negligent. They did not remove the accused teacher from the classroom which they have the power and obligation to do. Nor did they report the accused to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, as they are also required to do. Current law allowed for this teacher to be removed from the classroom immediately. Sadly, LAUSD administrators are the ones who didn’t take any action.

    August 24, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  8. Janae

    What a SHAME! Did the CTA really $$$PAY OFF$$$ an ex-educator- turned CHILD SEXUAL PREDATOR based on the excuse that union memebership makes it nearly impossible? Come on CTA!!! Let’s protect our children they’ve suffered unimaginable ABUSE at the hands of SEXUAL PREDATORS. Let’s show our children we care by holding PREDATORS ACCOUNTABLE and ensuring that appropriate consquences follow for such a crime. Prop 32 denies special interest power. SPECIAL INTERESTS GROUPS don't care about our children, they only care about protecting their pockets.

    August 24, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Dave B

      I'm reading lots of histrionics there, Janae, but not too much in the way of facts to back it up.
      1. The story makes no such claim that "CTA really $$$PAY OFF$$$ an ex-educator- turned CHILD SEXUAL PREDATOR (SIC)" You might consider watching it again.

      2. Prop 32 does not eliminate special interests. It prevents labor from making political contributions, but does nothing to prevent super-PACs, venture capitalists, and billionaires from contributing all they want to campaigns, which is why the typically politically neutral League of Women's Voters is opposing it. The pro-prop 32 campaign originated from the same people who brought us Citizens United ("corporations are people"). Unless you're into supporting the turning of California into a red state, which is what will happen if corporations, billionaires, and super-PACs are allowed to politic in our state unopposed, you may wish to do further research before declaring your unconditional support for prop 32.

      August 24, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • georgesheridan

      Janae is confused. It was the Los Angeles Unified School District, not the union, that first failed to investigate and then paid off the alleged perpetrator.

      Anti-union groups are distorting this incident in order to create an argument for Proposition 32 on the November ballot.

      Proposition 32 will diminish the power of unions, but not of special interests. It will do nothing to rein in the power of superpacs. It will block contributions to politicians by unions, but not by billionaires or law firms or real estate investment trusts or corporations – except that corporations would be prohibited from using payroll deductions from employees, which is not the way corporations fund their political activities anyway.

      In politics, business interests currently outspend unions fifteen to one. Now they want to take away the one.

      August 25, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • Fredrick Bertz

      The CTA did not pay off anyone. Members of the CTA choose to join a Political Action Committee, some of which is used for donations to legislators.

      CTA had no hand in the errors of the LAUSD, which failed to follow the law as it stands, in the case of Mr. Berent (sp?) It was the responsibility of the district to remove him as soon as there was any suspicion. It was the duty of the district to inform the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing as soon as they removed him. The Commission would then have done a quick review and likely suspended his credential meaning the the horrible teacher would have been suspended without pay pending the outcome of the investigation. When charges were filed by the DA's office, that suspended credential would have been revoked, allowing the district to fire him and cancel retirement benefits immediately on the basis of no longer having a valid credential.

      The union did not do anything in regards to this case. The union merely lobbied legislators on behalf of teachers in order to remind everyone involved that if the district had done their job, then the man responsible for all of this would have been out of the classroom and out of teaching faster.

      By the way, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing is still investigating whether or not it should revoke LAUSD Superintendent Deasy's Administrative Credential.

      August 25, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • Peter

      Janea, NO, NO, NO, CTA did not pay the person anything! The district cut a deal with the accused. Notice that the individual has not been found guilty in a trial before his peers. Now, every teacher I know thinks this person should be stripped of everything, and sent to prison. HOWEVER, you don't want someone coming in to your place of work, or your husband's, or friend's uttering an awful accusation and having someone lose their job on the spot. The administrators, under current law, have the ability to remove someone in an instant. Indeed, it is THEIR job to supervise the teacher – they should have removed him years and years ago. AND, Cta offered several amendments to the bill so it would dovetail with current 'due process' law. Padilla refused! CTA has no interest in protecting monsters,
      predators, or even bad teaching. But, the constitution guarantees DUE PROCESS; courts mete out punishment and fines. You don't fire someone for an accusation. You remove them until the matter is properly settled.

      August 25, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
  9. Sambasam

    I do believe that students must be protected but it must not simply accept escalation of play ground rumor to hit a fever pitch in search of a witch hunt. I can prove to you how in Texas that has no Union that Teacher are fired because of rumor. Even If you take the district to a hearing and win you will not receive your job back. This has happened to me twice. Without the protection of Unions there is no protection of the teachers from playground rumors destroying careers.

    August 24, 2012 at 2:31 am |