- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 12, 2013

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles school district will pay millions of dollars to settle dozens of legal actions stemming from an abuse case in which a former teacher is charged with lewd acts on children in his classroom over five years, district officials said Tuesday.

General Counsel David Holmquist said the settlement will cover 58 of the 191 claims and lawsuits filed against the district after the January 2012 arrest of former third-grade teacher Mark Berndt on 23 charges of lewd behavior at Miramonte Elementary School.

Holmquist would not specify the exact amount until the settlement is approved by a judge. He described it only as double-digit millions.

Prosecutors say Berndt played “tasting games” with students in which he fed them his semen on cookies and by spoon, sometimes blindfolding and photographing them. Berndt, who taught for 32 years at the South Los Angeles school, has pleaded not guilty in the criminal case.

The allegations came to light when a drugstore photo technician noticed dozens of odd photos of blindfolded children and reported them to authorities. Investigators said they found a plastic spoon in Berndt’s classroom trash bin that was found to contain traces of semen.

The case led to a wide-ranging overhaul of how the nation’s second largest school district handles allegations of sexual abuse after it was revealed that previous complaints about Berndt’s behavior were ignored.

It also shined a light on how slowly state officials act to censure teachers and led to a flurry of allegations of teacher-student sex abuse in the district and in other school systems.

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