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Former senator calls for investigation of sexual abuse of Latino students

City News Service | 1/30/2013, 10:31 a.m.

Former state Sen. Martha Escutia, now a partner at an Irvine law firm, called Tuesday for an independent investigation of what she called disproportionate sexual abuse of Latino students by teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The call came in the wake of claims that LAUSD teacher Robert Pimentel sexually abused children at George De La Torre Jr. Elementary School in Wilmington.

Escutia's firm, Manly & Stewart, represents more than 30 children allegedly molested by teachers at Miramonte Elementary School in South Los Angeles. She also noted that another teacher, Paul Chapel, abused students at Telfair Elementary in Pacoima.

"There now appears to be a consistent pattern of mass sexual abuse that has occurred almost exclusively in poor and largely Latino schools run by LAUSD," Escutia said.

"We need to know why LAUSD is unable to protect children and why a majority of these sex abusers end up teaching at poor Latino schools," she added.

Escutia expressed concern that allegations of abuse by Latino children and parents are ignored, and said undocumented parents of victims are reluctant to report abuse due to fear of deportation.

LAUSD attorney David Holmquist said the district has always worked to provide a safe environment for students, and it has conducted extensive reviews of its policies over the past year. The district updated its system of notifying state teacher-credentialing authorities when allegations arise and placed more specialists in the field to advise schools on misconduct issues. It changed its policy for notifying parents about abuse allegations and was working with Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Van Nuys) on legislation to allow faster dismissal of teachers accused of abuse.

"Anytime an incident like this occurs, it impacts our entire community," Holmquist said. "Every child we serve is important, and we would never willfully place students in harm's way. We are consistently working to strengthen student safety, including implementing numerous policy changes and supporting meaningful statewide legislative reforms like Sen. Padilla's teacher dismissal bill.

"We would encourage Sen. Escutia and Mr. (John) Manly to work with us to support statewide legislative reforms that will provide a safer learning environment for our students," he said.

Pimentel, who was arrested Wednesday, pleaded not guilty Thursday to eight counts of continuous sexual abuse and seven counts of lewd acts upon a child, for alleged assaults of 12 children under age 14. Police said he is suspected of assaulting as many as 20 children and one adult.