LA school officials chided for molest case silence

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Angry parents have confronted Los Angeles school officials, demanding to know why they weren’t told for a year that a teacher was alleged to have photographed children in class for sexual thrills.

A forum was held Wednesday at Miramonte Elementary School to discuss the investigation of Mark Berndt, a third-grade teacher who was arrested this week on charges that he photographed 23 students as young as 6 in his classroom. Authorities said he blindfolded students and fed them his semen.

Investigators found hundreds of photos.

Cheremoya Dupree, who has two youngsters in the school, said about 100 parents were at the meeting and shouted angrily when school and sheriff’s officials said the case was handled according to procedure.

Principal Mark Sandoval and other officials say Berndt was removed from class in January 2011 but parents weren’t told anything because authorities didn’t want to compromise their investigation.

The investigation of Berndt began when a film processor in Redondo Beach found photos more than a year ago, according to the Sheriff’s Department, which was given the case by Redondo Beach police on Dec. 2, 2010.

Bail for a former elementary school teacher was raised Wednesday to $23 million, as parents questioned why they weren’t notified when the pictures were found more than a year ago.

Berndt, 61, appeared in court for the first time after being charged with committing lewd acts involving 23 boys and girls, ages 6 to 10, between 2008 and 2010.

The tall and graying Berndt, represented by public defender Liz Braunstein, seemed calm in court as he spoke only to acknowledge his identity and birthdate and agreed to have his arraignment put over to Feb. 21.

He has made no statements to authorities, said sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore.

Deputy District Attorney Ana Maria Lopez requested the increase in bail from the initial $2.3 million amount. District attorney’s spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said the initial bail figure was an error because the presumptive bail is $1 million per count.

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