Lawyers representing dozens of children in multiple civil lawsuits who were abused by teachers at three Los Angeles Unified School District campuses reacted with “concern and puzzlement” over the appointment of Ramon Cortines as LAUSD’s “interim” Superintendent. Cortines is replacing John Deasy who resigned after less than three years on the job.
The 82-year old Cortines served as LAUSD’s chief administrator briefly in 2000 and then again from January 1, 2009 to April 16, 2011. During Cortines’ second stint as superintendent, dozens of elementary school students were allegedly abused by teachers at three different LAUSD campuses. The most notorious scandal involved Mark Berndt, a long-time teacher at Miramonte Elementary School, who abused dozens of young children, photographing them in sadomasochistic poses and allegedly feeding them his own semen by spoon or on cookies during what he called “tasting games.” Berndt was convicted of 23 counts of lewd behavior with children and is serving a 25-year prison sentence. LAUSD has already paid $30 million to settle about a third of pending civil damage claims, and on November 4 faces the first of many trials in other Miramonte cases. Cortines appears on the plaintiffs’ witness list for that trial in which victims and their families are contending that district officials knew about numerous instances of sexual misconduct by Berndt since as early as 1983 but did nothing to stop it.
“We are stunned, frankly, by the Board’s decision to reappoint Mr. Cortines given its purported commitment to preventing child sexual abuse in our public schools,” said Ronald Labriola, a partner at The Senators (Ret.) Firm, LLP, which is representing dozens of families in the Miramonte and George de la Torre litigations. “Why would a Board of Education that is supposedly concerned about reforming its policies in order to stop the rampant abuse of children appoint a superintendent whose record on child abuse is so abysmal?,” asked Labriola.
In addition to the Miramonte abuse, Cortines was at the LAUSD helm when multiple other children were allegedly abused at Telfair Elementary School in Pacoima and George de la Torre Elementary School in Wilmington. LAUSD recently paid a total of $5 million to settle two of the Telfair cases, with numerous others pending. More than a dozen claims have also been filed as a result of the George de la Torre abuse. The accused teachers in both those matters have are currently serving long prison sentences.
Cortines himself was involved in a highly publicized sexual harassment case. According the press reports, Cortines allegedly made a number of sexual advances towards a male subordinate while acting as LAUSD superintendent. Cortines later apologized, but contended that any activity of a sexual nature was consensual. “Mr. Cortines’ sex life away from work is his own business,” said Labriola, “but the fact that the alleged harassment occurred while he was acting as superintendent, combined with what appears to have been a culture at LAUSD during his tenure that discouraged the timely reporting of teacher misconduct towards students, calls into question whether he’s the right person to lead the district in the right direction from a student safety standpoint.”