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Sex scandals rock Southland schools

Juliana D. Norwood | 2/8/2012, 5 p.m.

A female teacher is now being implicated in the sexual misconduct investigation that surfaced at Miramonte Elementary School last week.

The school made headlines when two male teachers, Mark Berndt and Martin Springer, were arrested; one for allegedly feeding students his semen and the other for fondling students in his second-grade class.

The unnamed female teacher now under investigation was roped into the controversy when "two female students allegedly abused by teacher Mark Berndt claimed their female teacher regularly pulled them out of class and escorted them to Berndt's door for his inappropriate games," according to lawyer Brian Claypool, who said he interviewed both of the girls involved, and they independently corroborated each other's story.

Berndt, 61, was arrested last week and charged with binding and blindfolding dozens of students and subjecting them to lewd acts for his sexual pleasure between 2005 and 2010, authorities said.

Investigators with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department have not publicly identified any suspects beyond the two teachers arrested last week. A prosecution source said the district attorney's office was not aware of a related case involving a female teacher.

Miramonte Elementary School was closed Tuesday and Wednesday after parents staged a protest at the campus Monday morning. District officials announced Monday night that the entire staff would be temporarily transferred to another school that is currently off-track and does not have students attending at this time. During the transfer, investigators will continue to question what staff members might have known about the two teachers.

The "clean sweep" is meant to rebuild confidence, said Los Angeles Superintendent of Schools John Deasy. "The relocation is necessary for three reasons. Many of the staff are also experiencing extreme distress over what has happened and they need counseling and attention just like we are providing to the students ... Second, we must continue to investigate, and we are trying not to disrupt the education of that school while we do that ... Thirdly, we need to work with our staff so that they understand how they themselves can come to terms with what they may know."

Deasy also said that the replacement staff has already being screened and that from the point of the school's reopening today until further notice each classroom will be taught in a two-person team with both a teacher and a psychiatric social worker.

In the wake of the scandal, the district is now reviewing changes it plans to implement in the near future to avoid a repeat of such behavior.

Springer, 49, was arrested Friday on suspicion of fondling two girls inside his classroom sometime in the last three years. Tuesday he was charged with three counts of lewd acts upon a child over a three-month period in 2009. The three counts involve one girl who was identified only as "Jane Doe" and "under the age of 14 years." The complaint alleged the crimes occurred in April, May and June of 2009. If convicted, Springer faces a maximum state prison term of 12 years.

Berndt was removed from his classroom last year after a pharmacy photo technician printed some of the disturbing images and alerted local police. He was charged with 23 counts. His arraignment is set for Feb. 21, and he remains in custody in lieu of $23 million bail.

The Los Angeles Board of Education released a statement saying they were "appalled, extremely saddened, and devastated to learn of the allegations" and that they are "supportive in how Superintendent John Deasy is handling the situation." The district also established a hot line for anyone to call in with information about Miramonte. The line can be accessed at specialvictims@lasd.org or (866) 247-5877.

Miramonte isn't the only school making headlines this week because of alleged sexual improprieties. A longtime teacher at Hamilton High School has been accused of sexually molesting at least 10 students from the mid-1990s through 2010.

Vance Miller, 59, was a popular and well-respected teacher at Hamilton Music Academy Magnet for 17 years. In 2010, he was selected as Southern California's Outstanding Music Educator of the Year.

The victim who recently came forward identified only as John Doe, now 31 years old, is suing Miller. According to the complaint the victim established a close relationship with Miller, which became sexual. The then-13-year-old Doe claims to have engaged in roughly a four-year relationship that included kissing, fondling of genitals, masturbation, oral, and anal sex which occurred in the classroom, Miller's home and his vehicle.

The complaint also alleges Miller regularly kissed other students on the lips in class, rubbed up against them, took students individually with him to a local gym and showered naked with them.

"All of these activities were known and/or observed by fellow students, faculty and staff of the Los Angeles Unified School District and Hamilton Academy. Despite having awareness of this conduct, faculty and staff with the Los Angeles Unified School District and Hamilton Academy failed to make mandatory reports required under California Penal Code Section 11164 et. Seq., and failed to enforce rules of the defendants designed to protect children from being sexually molested by teachers," the complaint states.

Miller has declined to comment but Superintendent Deasy, after reviewing the case, decided to fire Miller. A second former student has also come forth with a lawsuit and several others have come forward with corroborating stories of experiences with Miller.

Finally, Paul Adame, a 37-year-old janitor at Germain Elementary School in Chatsworth, was booked Tuesday on suspicion of committing lewd acts on a child, authorities said.

The mother of the alleged victim went to the Los Angeles Police Department's Devonshire station and reported "inappropriate contact between a janitor employed at the school and her child," according to the LAPD. The department's sexual assault unit took over the case and Adame was arrested. "Due to the nature of this investigation and the need to protect the identity of the victim, no information is being released regarding the criminal behavior, or the name, age, or gender of the child," the LAPD said in a statement.

However, detectives are urging parents of the school to speak with their children regarding Adame to determine if they were subjected to any inappropriate behavior.

Anyone with information is encouraged to call the Devonshire detectives at (818) 832-0609.

See www.ourweekly.com for video. Nash Baker contributed to this story.