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LAUSD To Pay $88 Million In 30-Student Sexual Abuse Settlement

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The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) will pay a total of $88 million to settle 30 cases of sexual abuse at two elementary school campuses, where questions about specific teachers' behavior had been repeatedly raised and ignored by district officials, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Monday's announcement centers upon abuses at a pair of LAUSD elementary schools. The settlement addresses 18 instances of teacher-student abuse at De La Torre Elementary in Wilmington, and 12 cases at Telfair Avenue Elementary in Pacoima, according to the City News Service. Aside from the abuse, this settlement stems directly from allegations that the district was aware that the involved teachers were potentially abusive, but failed to act on that knowledge.

This settlement represents the second largest in the district's history. Back in 2014, LAUSD paid nearly $140 million to the families of children abused by Mark Berndt, a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in South Los Angeles. Berndt photographed students bound and gagged, covered in cockroaches, and being spoon-fed what trial prosecutors alleged was Berndt's semen.

Berndt's trial and conviction occurred while allegations of abuse at Telfair and De La Torre Elementary schools were under investigation.

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At Telfair, teacher Paul Chapel III was first accused of lewd acts against third grade students back in 2012. An internal investigation substantiated the claim, and Chapel was found to have abused a dozen students at Telfar, including touching and kissing his students' genitals.

But questions about Chapel's behavior existed before his employment at Telfair Elementary. Chapel was dismissed by a private school before he was hired by LAUSD. There, he was accused of sexually abusing a male student. Though Chapel was not convicted, LAUSD never opted to conduct their own investigation on Chapel. This is despite several teachers who raised flags about Chapel's questionable behavior, like keeping children on his lap, trying to take them on unauthorized field trips, and shutting his classroom door with students inside during lunch and recess.

At De La Torre Elementary, Robert Pimentel was subjected to district scrutiny for more than a decade before he was convicted of sexually assaulting four girls. In 2002, former De La Torre principal Irene Hinojosa questioned Pimentel about allegations that he slapped young girls' buttocks and touched their calves. Pimentel confessed to the behavior, but blamed it on medication that increased his sex hormones. He continued teaching.

He also continued to teach even after De La Torre's principal received a search warrant asking for Pimentel's personnel files relating to an investigation that he abused a minor related to him. More complaints against Pimentel began surfacing in 2009, when a social worker filed a report documenting misconduct. Still, the district failed to open an investigation. Pimental wouldn't leave the school until 2012 after a student told her mother he had inappropriately touched her.

This fact is crucial to the claims of negligence levied against LAUSD in this latest settlement. Liability is established not by the abusive acts themselves, but whether or not the district was aware that abuse could potentially occur. The settlement indicates that in the cases of both Pimentel and Chapel, the district was accordingly aware.

Chapel is currently serving a 25-year sentence in prison after pleading no contest to 12 counts of abuse. Pimentel is serving 12 years after pleading no contest to four.

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