Juvenile Justice

Published — February 10, 2012 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

LA school abuse investigation runs into immigration fears

Introduction

It’s made national headlines, and now the sordid story of alleged lewd and bizarre conduct by a Los Angeles teacher includes another sensitive dimension: immigration status.

A number of parents of students at Miramonte Elementary School are apparently admitting they are undocumented immigrants and fear coming forward to talk with law enforcement about allegations against teacher Mark Berndt. Most students are Latino at the school where the suspect has taught for more than 30 years. And many parents are immigrants, some legal residents, some not.

Los Angeles’ La Opinion, one of the nation’s largest Spanish-language newspapers, has a piece today quoting undocumented parents who say they have information to share about Berndt but are afraid they could be deported if they speak to investigators.

One of the parents has a daughter who received a post card from the accused teacher, and words of encouragement from him about how smart she was. He wrote “college girl” on a photo he gave her that the family has kept, La Opinion reports. The paper says eight families have retained a lawyer and have information about Berndt, who is accused of 23 counts of lewd behavior toward students. He remains in jail and has not entered a plea in court.

A synopsis of the Miramonte immigration dilemma is also on the Multi-American blog of the Southern California public radio station KPCC. The Multi-American reports that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has attempted to put word out through media outlets that deputies won’t be questioning any parents or witnesses about immigration status.

However, the Multi-American reports, trust is in short supply because of the “Secure Communities” agreement under which the sheriff’s department has to send crime suspects’ fingerprints to federal immigration officials for status checks.

A second Miramonte teacher was also arrested and charged this week with lewd acts. He has pleaded not guilty and was released on bond. One of two students who made accusations against that teacher, Martin Bernard Springer, has reportedly recanted, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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