- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 21, 2012

LOS ANGELES — A former teacher whose arrest sparked a scandal at an elementary school that led to the replacement of all of its teachers pleaded not guilty Tuesday to committing lewd acts with 23 children in his classroom.

Mark Berndt, 61, remained jailed on $23 million bail. He was the first of two teachers arrested within a week on molestation charges involving students at Miramonte Elementary School

Martin Springer, 49, previously pleaded not guilty after he was charged with committing three lewd acts on one girl in 2009. He is free on $300,000 bail.

Former students have sued, alleging other molestation incidents.

Outside the courtroom where Mr. Berndt was arraigned, his attorney, Victor Acevedo, complained that deputies used a loudspeaker system at the jail to identify his client to other inmates as a child-molestation suspect.

He said the actions “put a bull’s-eye on his head,” placing his client in danger.

“Anyone accused of these charges, who is in the custody of the Sheriff’s Department, always runs the risk of their personal safety, for obvious reasons,” Mr. Acevedo said.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore told reporters that the claim is being investigated.

Mr. Berndt was a teacher for more than 30 years at Miramonte. He was arrested in January and charged with committing lewd acts on children as young as 6, in a case that attracted national attention.

Hundreds of photographs were found of children with blindfolds and tape over their mouths. Some photos depicted children being fed a white liquid which authorities allege was the teacher’s semen.

Mr. Berndt was ordered back to court on March 28, when a date will be set for his preliminary hearing.

Immediately after the scandal broke earlier this month, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy ordered that more than 120 staff members at Miramonte, everyone from the principal and teachers to the cafeteria workers, be replaced because a full investigation will be disruptive and staffers will require support to get through the scandal.

“We intend to interview every adult, every adult who works at that school, whether they are a teacher or administrator, or whether they are an after-school playground worker or a custodian or a secretary,” Mr. Deasy told parents who packed a high school gymnasium.

An entire staff has come into Miramonte’s classrooms to take over teaching, and a psychiatric social worker has been placed in every classroom to help students and staff cope with any issues.

The original employees, including nearly 90 teachers, will remain out of the school at least until August, when Miramonte changes from a year-round system to a regular summer-vacation schedule. When classes resume, there will be fewer teachers and fewer students because some will be transferred to new schools that are opening.

Mr. Deasy announced that an internal investigation of the case will be handled by an independent commission led by retired California Supreme Court Chief Justice Carlos Moreno.

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