Teacher to plead no contest in lewd ‘tasting game’
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A former Los Angeles elementary school teacher has agreed to plead no contest to molestation charges involving more than 20 students.
Mark Berndt is accused of blindfolding children and spoon-feeding them cookies laced with his semen in what he called “tasting games.”
A source close to the case said Thursday that Berndt plans to enter the legal equivalent of guilty pleas to 23 charges at a hearing Friday. The source spoke only on condition of anonymity because the hearing is pending.
The plea agreement, first reported by the Daily News of Los Angeles, calls for Berndt to be sentenced to 25 years in prison.
The district attorney’s office and Berndt’s lawyer refused to comment. But the prosecutors said Berndt’s next court hearing had been advanced to Friday.
Parents filed suit against Los Angeles Unified School District for failing to protect their children from Berndt. Settlements have cost the district tens of millions.
The allegations against Berndt came to light in 2009 when a drugstore photo technician noticed dozens of odd photos of blindfolded children and reported them to authorities. Investigators said they discovered a plastic spoon in Berndt’s classroom trash bin that was found to contain traces of semen.
The case led to a wide-ranging overhaul of how the nation’s second-largest school district handles allegations of sexual abuse after it was revealed that previous complaints about Berndt’s behavior were ignored.
It also shined a light on how slowly state officials act to censure teachers and led to a flurry of allegations of teacher-student sex abuse in the district and in other school systems.
Shortly after Berndt’s arrest, the school district temporarily removed all 76 of the school’s teachers along with staff and administrators, putting them on leave and having them report to an empty high school nearby.
Six months later, when the new school year began, 43 of them returned to a restructured Miramonte with a new principal. The rest either retired or went to new schools.
Parents settled lawsuits with the school rather than put their children through the trauma of litigation, their lawyers said later.
A few of the cases involved another Miramonte teacher, Martin Springer, who was charged with lewd acts on a child in a case involving a second-grader that authorities said was fondled in class in 2009. He is awaiting trial.
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