Collective Punishment for Teachers and Children to Obscure District’s Culpability
As LAUSD continues its lame attempt at damage control, collectively punishing everyone at Miramonte Elementary School in a mass firing and banning blindfolding and food consumption throughout the district, more evidence is coming out that the district was asleep at the wheel, allowing potential molesters to continue working in its schools.
Paul Chapel recently pleaded not guilty to 16 counts of lewd behavior and sexual abuse of four students at his school. All were under the age of 14. In 1997, Chapel was accused of molesting an 8-year-old friend of his son who was sleeping at his house. LAUSD records show that the district alerted the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing CTC), which suspended his credential, while the district suspended him from work without pay. The jury couldn’t reach a verdict due to lack of physical evidence, prompting the CTC to reinstate his credential and LAUSD to give him back a job with back pay. Chapel’s LAUSD personnel records were incomplete when examined after the most recent allegations, as was the district’s response, according to the Los Angeles Times,
Personnel records of former Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt, who was accused this year of spoon-feeding his semen to blindfolded students, are also incomplete, containing no records of prior sexual abuse allegations, despite the fact that there were at least four unrelated past sex abuse allegations against him. In fact, the Los Angeles Times reports that LAUSD has no record that it ever conducted an internal investigation.
The Times article also mentioned the case of former Assistant Principal Steve Rooney, who allegedly waved a gun at a student's father. The Time suggests that a follow-up investigation would have revealed that Rooney was having sex with the student. Rooney eventually returned to work and was later convicted of molesting several students at Edwin Markham Middle School.
While the CTC and school districts have the obligation to honor teachers’ due process rights, they also have the obligation to fully investigate allegations of misconduct and to monitor the fitness of teachers. In Chapel’s case, his acquittal was due to incomplete evidence and the fact that it was only a child’s word against his—not a very compelling vindication. One would think that under these circumstances, LAUSD might have monitored the man closely and warned his site administrators to do likewise.
One would also hope that school districts would do a thorough job screening applicants prior to hiring them. This does not seem to be the case with Chapel, who was sued for making inappropriate and demeaning comments during a sexual education class at a school in the mid-1980s, prior to working for LAUSD. Though he eventually won a settlement with the school, he was compelled to leave. He listed the principal of his past school as reference when he applied to LAUSD, which either failed to talk to the principal or accepted incomplete or deceptive information.