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LAUSD Will Pay Nearly $140 Million To 82 Victims In Miramonte Sex Abuse Case

Photo of Mark Berndt courtesy of L.A. Sheriff's Department
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In what is said to be the largest settlement a school district has ever paid out, L.A. United School District will pay nearly $140 million to 82 victims of the former Miramonte Elementary School teacher who sexually molested his students for decades. The entire sum was $139,250,500, a statement from LAUSD said. A statement from the Plaintiff's lawyers had the figure at $139,750,000, and the reason for the difference is unclear, KTLA reports.

Previously, the district paid out $30 million to settle 65 of the claims in 2013 and 2014, but other families decided to push on to a civil case. The district met with plaintiffs' lawyers on Tuesday, the L.A. Times reported. With this new settlement, the judge will review each claim and determine how much of the total amount goes to each plaintiff.

The case of Mark Berndt, who is currently serving a 25-year sentence, is extremely unsettling. Berndt worked as a teacher at Miramonte from 1979 to 2011.

Decades of accusations against Berndt went ignored by the district, including a parent who accused him of dropping his pants during a field trip in 1983 and students who claimed they saw him masturbating in class in 1992. It wasn't until a film processor at a CVS alerted police to a roll of film Berndt dropped off that was full of photos of the teacher feeding bound students his semen that Berndt was finally put behind bars.

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Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines said of the settlement, "There is nothing more important to us than the safety of the students we serve. Our goal from the outset of these appalling revelations has been to spare the Miramonte community the anguish of a protracted trial, while at the same time being mindful of the financial consequences stemming from settlements. Given these circumstances, we believe we struck a balance between those objectives."

He continued, "While we know Mr. Berndt went to extreme lengths to hide his conduct, we know that our job protecting students is never done. While we are proud of the steps that we've taken to enhance student safety, the only way we can have the safest schools is through partnerships with parents and the community."

General Counsel Dave Holmquist released the following statement:

"We appreciate the diligent work and respectful manner that our counsel handled this manner. Our priority has been to resolve these cases without the need for potentially painful litigation for these families. We know that these settlements will provide for the future needs of these students. We are glad that this will help close this chapter for these families. We remain committed to helping them continue the process of healing."

The plaintiffs' lawyers will issue their own statement at 1 p.m. today outside the Stanley Mosk Courthouse downtown.

Update: Luis Carrillo, John Manly and Brian Claypool—lawyers for the plaintiffs—issued statements today regarding the settlement, City News Service reports.

Attorney Luis Carrillo said: "Today there is some measure of justice for children who were
victimized for more than 30 years by a school district that refused to protect the children. There is some justice for the children and these monies will go to pay for long-term therapy, because the emotional damage will last a lifetime.''

Claypool said that one female victim was so emotionally distraught over the abuse that she told a counselor that she "wasn't sure she wanted to live anymore."

Manly asserted the LAUSD "fought us every step of the way" during the case. And while he admitted that this was essentially their job, he countered, "But in our community, should we have to expect that from the leaders of our schools?"

Manly stated that as a result of administrators who looked the other way, "multiple generations of kids were hurt," KTLA reports.

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He also said, "I cannot imagine what it would be like for a parent to try to explain to their little girl or their little boy that they [ate] their teacher's semen. I can't explain it. I was going to have a difficult time explaining it to a jury."

Manly said that a retired judge will choose how to divide the settlement among the victims.

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