iOS app Android app More

Miramonte School Scandal: 200 Additional Photos Surface In Case Against Mark Berndt (UPDATE)

Miramonte School Scandal

CHRISTINA HOAG and GREG RISLING   02/ 8/12 09:25 PM ET  AP

LOS ANGELES — The scandal embroiling an elementary school where two teachers were arrested last week on lewdness charges widened Wednesday with revelations of 200 more inappropriate photos of children and that one teacher sent warmly written birthday cards and presents to students who participated in his "games."

The case of a third-grade teacher accused of feeding children his own semen in bizarre "tasting games" in his classroom over a five-year period has garnered international headlines.

It has also roiled the nation's second-largest school district, which has a sizable number of students who come from homes with illegal immigrants. Many parents at the school have said they have been reluctant to report suspicions about the teachers because of their immigration status.

The new developments came as Los Angeles Unified School District prepared to reopen Miramonte Elementary School on Thursday with an entirely new staff.

According to three lawsuits filed against the district Tuesday, teacher Mark Berndt sent birthday cards to some of the girls, asking how they were adjusting to the fourth grade. He also wrote warm notes such as "surely no teacher could ever have a more wonderful student than you!!" and "P.P.S. The Roaches Say `Hi!'"

He signed the notes: "Mr. B."

The cards were provided as exhibits in the lawsuits, which were filed on behalf of three former students of Berndt. They allege that the district and Principal Martin Sandoval failed to adequately safeguard them against Berndt and a second teacher arrested, Martin Springer, who faces three lewdness charges in connection with the fondling of a second-grader.

Berndt gave one girl a CD dated Feb, 12, 2010, writing on it "Happy 9th B-Day – Hope You Enjoy the Songs!" that included such tracks as "Never on Sunday" and "Gonna Get Along Without You."

An email message seeking comment from LAUSD wasn't immediately returned

Sheriff's investigators, meanwhile, said Wednesday they have found 200 additional photos they believe were taken by Berndt who is accused of committing lewd acts on 23 children from 2005 to 2010.

The photos were found late last week at the same pharmacy where a photo lab technician had first noticed odd pictures that led to Berndt's arrest, sheriff's Lt. Carlos Marquez said. The recent discovery brings the total number of photos to roughly 600.

Many of the photos involve children already identified by authorities, but there may be other potential victims, Marquez said.

Like the other pictures, the photos show children ages 6 to 10 blindfolded and being fed a milky, white liquid authorities believe was semen on spoons or cookies, Marquez said.

Berndt, 61, taught for 32 years at the south Los Angeles school, where the 120-member staff, from janitors to principal, was replaced this week amid outrage among parents.

The school was closed Tuesday and Wednesday and will reopen with employees hired from a list of recently laid off workers.

The old employees will be based at a nearby school under construction as they undergo interviews in a district investigation as to how the alleged acts went undetected for so long.

The furor over Berndt's arrest led two parents to come forward last Thursday to complain that Springer, who had worked at the school for 26 years, fondled two second-grade girls in his classroom.

Springer, 49, pleaded not guilty Tuesday after he was charged with committing three lewd acts upon one girl in 2009. Bail was set at $300,000.

Detectives said there is no evidence that the two men acted in concert.

More allegations of inappropriate conduct by other school employees also surfaced.

The mother of an 11-year-old boy told the Los Angeles Times that a teacher's aide, a woman in her 50s, sent at least three letters to her son in 2009, including one that said: "When you get close to me, even if you give me the chills, I like that. Don't tell nobody about this!"

The aide signed one letter "Sad Girl" because she was being transferred to another school, the mother said.

The mother said she went to the sheriff's department, which directed her to the school. During a meeting that included the mother, her son, his teacher and an assistant principal, the teacher's aide acknowledged writing letters and said she had a grandmotherly affection for the boy.

The aide no longer works for the school system, district spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry said.

Parents at the school who are illegal immigrants have been reassured by sheriff's officers and district administrators that no cases will be referred to immigration agents.

Manuel Flores, father of a 9-year-old girl at the school, said he was anxious about even attending a parents' meeting at the school Monday night. "It was full of police," he said.

At that meeting, Superintendent John Deasy stressed to parents that no one will be even asked about their immigration status if they come forward to report a crime.

The district set up a confidential hotline for Miramonte parents who may be hesitant to speak directly to detectives.

Martha Escutia, a lawyer who represents several families, said fear is rampant in the community.

"One little girl told me she doesn't want to come forward because she's afraid her parents will be deported," she said.

After Berndt's arrest on Jan. 30, complaints about him surfaced dating back to 1994, but authorities did not act on them.

Berndt remains jailed on $23 million bail and could face life in prison if convicted.

___

Associated Press writer E.J. Tamara contributed to this report.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Nine-year-old Ashley Villatoro, left, holds a poster showing an image of former teacher Martin B. Springer as students arrive at Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. Children are returning to the school where the entire staff has been replaced following the arrests of two former teachers on charges of committing lewd acts with students in class. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Nine-year-old Ruby Garduno, right, holds a sign as students enter Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Kathryn Kidd, center, distribute bracelets to students outside Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Nine-year-old Ashley Villatoro, center, holds a sign showing images of former teacher Martin B. Springer outside Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • An adult accompanies two students into Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • A mother who declined to give her name walks with her daughter outside Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Los Angeles Unified School District administrators, counselors and new teachers gather at the Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012. Allegations of teacher lewd behavior comes as school district administrators move to replace the entire staff at Miramonte Elementary School while the Los Angeles Unified School District investigates two teachers arrested last week. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Student Stephanie Perez, left, reacts, as she demands to keep her teacher, along with friend, Ruby Garduno, as some parents gather to show support for teachers outside the Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012. Allegations of teacher lewd behavior comes as school district administrators move to replace the entire staff at Miramonte Elementary School while the Los Angeles Unified School District investigates two teachers arrested last week. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Los Angeles Unified School District board president Monica Garcia makes a statement following a closed-door meeting of the Board of Education in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012. Prosecutors have filed a lewd-acts complaint against the second of two teachers removed from a Los Angeles-area elementary school, and the Board voted to fire him in the closed-door meeting. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

  • With portraits of school children behind him, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy takes his seat following a closed-door meeting of the Board of Education in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

  • Parent Maria Guadalupe Garcia holds a sign reading in Spanish: " We don't want new teachers," as some parents protest replacing the staff outside the Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Parents and others protest outside Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. About three dozen parents and supporters staged a protest at the Los Angeles-area school rocked by allegations of lewd conduct crimes by two teachers against children. They demanded greater communication with education officials and the placement of cameras in classrooms and hallways at Miramonte Elementary School. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Ivis Urbina, right, with her granddaughter Alexa Agillon, 6, protest with others outside Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. About three dozen parents and supporters staged a protest at the Los Angeles-area school rocked by allegations of lewd conduct crimes by two teachers against children. They demanded greater communication with education officials and the placement of cameras in classrooms and hallways at Miramonte Elementary School. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Los Angeles Unified School District police guard the front door of Miramonte Elementary school as parents protest outside in Los Angeles on Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. About three dozen parents and supporters staged a protest at the Los Angeles-area school rocked by allegations of lewd conduct crimes by two teachers against children. They demanded greater communication with education officials and the placement of cameras in classrooms and hallways at Miramonte Elementary School. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Parents bring their children to school as others protest outside Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. About three dozen parents and supporters staged a protest at the Los Angeles-area school rocked by allegations of lewd conduct crimes by two teachers against children. They demanded greater communication with education officials and the placement of cameras in classrooms and hallways at Miramonte Elementary School. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Edgar Flores, right, encourages other parents to join a protest outside Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. About three dozen parents and supporters staged a protest at the Los Angeles-area school rocked by allegations of lewd conduct crimes by two teachers against children. They demanded greater communication with education officials and the placement of cameras in classrooms and hallways at Miramonte Elementary School. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Attorney Luis Carrillo announces a claim against the school district on behalf of Dalia Gutierrez, the mother a girl who was an alleged victim of teacher Mark Berndt between 2008 and 2010, at the Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. Berndt, 61, who worked at the school for 32 years, has charged with committing lewd acts on 23 children, ages 6 to 10, between 2005 and 2010. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Dalia Gutierrez wears the coat of her attorney, Luis Carrillo, not shown, before announcing a claim for alleged abuse suffered by her daughter at Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. Teacher Mark Berndt, 61, who worked at the school for 32 years, has charged with committing lewd acts on 23 children, ages 6 to 10, between 2005 and 2010. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Yolanda Sanchez talks about what she describes as documented child abuse of her son, outside the Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles, Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. About three dozen parents and supporters staged a protest at the Los Angeles-area school rocked by allegations of lewd conduct crimes by two teachers against children. They demanded greater communication with education officials and the placement of cameras in classrooms and hallways at Miramonte Elementary School. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies stand outside Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. About three dozen parents and supporters staged a protest at the Los Angeles-area school rocked by allegations of lewd conduct crimes by two teachers against children. They demanded greater communication with education officials and the placement of cameras in classrooms and hallways at Miramonte Elementary School. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • This 2003 photo provided by Flor Cervantes shows former Miramontes Elementary teacher Mark Berndt with her sister, Angelica Zuniga, then a third-grader, at the school in Los Angeles. Angelica Zuniga, 16, now a high school junior, said Berndt, who is now suspected of taking bondage-style photographs of children in his class, never asked her or others to do anything strange or to play any inappropriate games. (AP Photo/Flor Cervantes)

  • This 2003 photo provided by Flor Cervantes shows former Miramontes Elementary teacher Mark Berndt with her sister, Angelica Zuniga, holding a citizenship diploma given to her by Brendt, at the school in Los Angeles. Angelica Zuniga, 16, now a high school junior, said Berndt, who is suspected of taking bondage-style photographs of children in his class, never asked her or others to do anything strange or to play any inappropriate games. (AP Photo/Flor Cervantes)

  • This 2003 photo provided by Flor Cervantes shows former Miramontes Elementary teacher Mark Berndt with her sister, Angelica Zuniga, then a third-grader, at the school in Los Angeles. Angelica Zuniga, 16, now a high school junior, said Berndt, who is suspected of taking bondage-style photographs of children in his class, never asked her or others to do anything strange or to play any inappropriate games. (AP Photo/Flor Cervantes)

  • Miramonte Elementary school principal Martin Sandoval walks out to address the media outside the school in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. Veteran Miramonte Elementary school teacher Mark Berndt, 61, was arrested on charges of lewd conduct with 23 children after a film processor gave police photos showing blindfolded children with their mouths taped and cockroaches on their faces. Berndt, 61, not seen, was arrested Jan. 30, 2012 and remained jailed Tuesday on $2.3 million bail. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • The Miramonte Elementary school's principal, Martin Sandoval speaks to the media outside his school in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. Veteran Miramontes Elementary school teacher Mark Berndt, 61, was arrested on charges of lewd conduct with 23 children after a film processor gave police photos showing blindfolded children with their mouths taped and cockroaches on their faces. Berndt, 61, not seen, was arrested Jan. 30, and remained jailed Tuesday on $2.3 million bail. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • A student enters into Miramontes Elementary School in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Students are escorted to a waiting bus as they leave Miramonte Elementary school after classes Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • Police are seen at the The Miramonte Elementary school in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

FOLLOW HUFFPOST LOS ANGELES

Filed by Anna Almendrala  |