Recent sexual transgressions committed by teachers at Miramonte Elementary School served as a tragic reminder to the influx of sexual abuse cases plaguing our nation’s youth. The lewd and salacious acts committed by Martin Springer and Mark Berndt resemble those of the Penn State tragedy that transpired just months ago. Each situation personified the vulnerability of children who were groomed to trust adults when presented with gifts and attention. While the accusations in each case remain distinct, the disturbing trend of adults stalking vulnerable children continues to run rampant.
Martin Springer, a second grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in a souther L.A. school district, was arrested last week after complaints suggested that he committed lewd acts with children under his supervision. “The allegations involve two girls who were allegedly fondled in the classroom at Miramonte School by suspect Springer. They were approximately 7 years old at the time of the incidents, which were alleged to have occurred during the past three years,” said Capt. Mike Parker of the sheriff’s department.
Furthermore, a few days before the arrest of Springer, officials completed a year long investigation into allegations that accused Mark Berndt of sexual abuse. Berndt, a former teacher at the school where Springer teaches, was arrested on 23 counts of sexual abuse that witnessed him tie up children to take lewd pictures of. Allegations suggest that Berndt would tie up his victims against their will, while simultaneously placing giant cockroaches on their faces and spoon feeding them his own semen. Subsequently, Berndt would tell the victims that they were playing a “tasting game,” in which he used a blue plastic spoon to feed children a white substance that DNA tests later revealed to be his semen. The students were told to tell Berndt whether the substance tasted salty or sweet, authorities said. Incriminating photos, along with DNA samples, have been discovered on school grounds and at Berndt’s home.
These transgressions exhibit a propensity for the exploitation of vulnerable children. In recent allegations, the children of Miramonte Elementary School could hardly have been more disadvantaged. Approximately 1,400 children attend Miramonte, the majority of which are from poor Latino immigrant households whose families primarily speak Spanish. Subsequently, many of the parents may be lacking legal immigrant status. As a result, the community surrounding the school has been gagged by fear of authority.
The fearful atmosphere created by these circumstances has the members of the community walking on eggshells, as to not draw attention to themselves. Therefore, this community attracts adults with bad intentions. Sexual predators know there is little chance a victimized family would report the acts.
Martha Escutia, a former state senator turned lawyer, acknowledged that these conditions are the “perfect recipe for a predator.” According to Escutia,
“You have lots of the very poor who don’t even know what their rights are… you have the undercurrent of immigration, undercurrent of poverty. Miramonte is not Malibu. It’s not a sophisticated community.”
These conditions have promoted the lewd acts of several others. In a separate incident, school system officials said they fired a female teacher’s aide at the school in 2009, after a mother reported finding love letters the aide wrote to her 11-year-old son.
According to a fathers complaint, he was not made aware of his 10-year-old daughters victimization until after Berndt’s arrest. Raymundo, 39, who spoke only on condition his last name not be used because he immigrated illegally, acknowledged his frustration that parents were not made aware of Berndt’s actions till a year after they transpired.
“For a year, we didn’t know anything about this,” he said in Spanish. “The school was trying to keep this under wraps. … This is very bad. The school is almost 100% Latino. It’s because of that they discriminate against us. We are poor people.” For fear of deportation, Raymundo did not notify authorities of the transgressions committed against his daughter.
In response to the entire situation, school officials decided to replace the entire staff working at Miramonte Elementary School. While some believe the removal off all the faculty to be a ploy, school officials acknowledge they are throwing out the good with the bad. Tom Waldman, spokesman for the school system, says administrators felt it was “the best thing to do.”
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