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Lesson of L.A. teacher sex-crime case: Heed children who report abuse

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Berndt is accused of blindfolding and gagging students, and making them play a “game” of tasting strange things, including spoonfuls of a substance that police say was his semen.

Berndt was removed from the classroom as soon as the criminal investigation started. But the school district was asked to hold its own investigation only after the criminal probe was complete.

In a Feb. 1 letter, L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy wrote: “The District takes each and every reported act of criminal and administrative misconduct seriously, and we will continue to aggressively pursue each case … and initiate the appropriate disciplinary measures.”

While abusers often select and “groom” a young target to trust them until they can get him or her in a private setting, there have been cases of abuse in front of other students. A 2004 report for the US Department of Education mentions a case in which a teacher would call boys up to his desk one at a time to discuss homework, and then would fondle them.

“Every child in the room knew what was happening and students talked about it among themselves. The teacher repeated this behavior for 15 years before one student finally reported to an official who would act,” says the report, prepared by Charol Shakeshaft, now a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond.

In 2010, a report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) detailed cases of abusive educators moving from state to state and committing new offenses – even sometimes after being convicted of sexual abuse. State laws requiring background checks or reporting of sexual misconduct in schools vary widely. 

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