Alleged teacher misconduct cases growing in L.A.

Miramonte Elementary School, Los Angeles
In a 2-month span, over 30 school employees were removed from L.A.'s classrooms for alleged sexual misconduct with students or harassment.
CBS News

(CBS News) LOS ANGELES - Lawmakers in California are considering a bill that would make it easier to fire teachers accused of misconduct. As CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy tells us, it's in response to anger over a growing list of abuse cases in the nation's second largest school district.

At a protest, parents in Los Angeles are demanding answers.

"What about our kids? They need to be protected," said parent Jessica Diaz.

A teacher at Diaz' son's school is now accused of molesting three girls and a boy in the past year. Paul Chapel was reinstated as a teacher in the late 90's after he was tried but not convicted for molesting a young neighbor.

"We should not have that worry of our kids being safe in a school," said Diaz.

In a two-month span, more than 30 school employees were removed from L.A.'s classrooms for alleged sexual misconduct with students or harassment. Eight were arrested.

John Deasy is the superintendent of Los Angeles public schools. Tracy asked him if he was surprised by how big the problem seems to be.

" I'm very disturbed by how big the problem is," he responded.

He added: "I walk into a classroom and this little guy tells me, 'I'm like really afraid.' I can't have that. We cannot have you afraid."

The crisis began in late January when third-grade teacher Mark Berndt was charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct at Miramonte Elementary School. He is accused of photographing students bound and gagged. Allegations against Berndt date back to 1990, yet he remained in the classroom.

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"It does seem over time that red flags -- some pretty blatant warning signs -- were missed with some of these teachers. Do you feel that way?" asked Tracy.

"I don't know if they were missed or ignored. There is a difference. And ignored is something that I'm gravely concerned about," said Deasy.

After a second arrest at Miramonte, Deasy relocated the remaining 85 teachers to give the school a fresh start. His office is also reviewing all complaints against teachers in the L.A. school district -- an investigation the teacher's union calls a witch hunt.

"Our duty is to make sure that good teachers don't have their careers hurt, don't have their reputations tarnished," said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

This week, Deasy testified in support of a bill to change state law making it easier to fire teachers accused of sexual offenses involving children. Deasy also thinks their pensions should be revoked. Mark Berndt will keep his $4,000 per month pension even if convicted.

"Most people listening to that will say that's crazy. What do you think?" Tracey asked.

"I think it's crazy. You commit a felony with a child in your capacity, I'm not agnostic about that. I actually don't think you should get your pension."

Deasy says parents will now be notified within 72 hours when a teacher is removed from the classroom.

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    Ben Tracy is a CBS News senior national and environmental correspondent based in Washington, D.C.