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LAUSD Settles Sex-Abuse Claims for $139 Million

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Los Angeles Unified School District announced on Friday that it had reached a $139 million settlement with the families of the children who came forward with shocking sexual-abuse allegations against a third-grade Miramonte elementary school teacher.

Authorities investigated teacher Mark Berndt after evidence of his misconduct showed up in photos that were developed by a photo store employee in 2010.

Berndt was charged with 23 counts of lewd acts on 23 children age 7 to 10. He was convicted last year and sentenced to 25 years in prison after entering into a plea deal.

Families and students accused the school district of negligence after Berndt's January 2012 arrest, claiming he was hired even though he had a criminal record for child abuse.

In the early 1990s, the families claimed, Miramonte students complained that Berndt had sexually abused them but their allegations were ignored.

LAUSD's indifference allowed Berndt to abuse Miramonte students for "over two decades unfettered," a May 2012 state court complaint said.

65 cases against the school district have been settled for $30 million since 2013, the district said in a Nov. 21 statement. The $139 million settlement will "largely end" the claims of a reported 150 children, the district added.

District Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines said the school district shares the families and students' "disgust and anger."

"While we understand that no one can undo the damage that this teacher did in this case, we know that we must move forward and do everything we can to help this community heal," Cortines wrote. "That's why we have agreed to this settlement, which will bring this difficult process to a conclusion, and spare those involved the potential pain of reliving these terrible events through a public trial."

The district said a judge will review each claim through an "independent process" before assigning compensation to the victims.


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