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Students, parents protest as troubled school reopens

The Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles reopens Thursday with an entirely new staff after two teachers, who have since been arrested, were accused of lewd acts involving children. NBC's Mike Taibbi reports.

Updated, 12:41 p.m. ET: LOS ANGELES -- New teachers greeted children and their parents Thursday when they returned to class at a Los Angeles elementary school rocked by the arrests of two longtime teachers on lewdness charges.

Miramonte Elementary School reopened Thursday, two days after the nation's second-largest school district closed the campus to hire a brand new staff. New employees include a retired principal and 88 teachers and support staffers who were recently laid off and were on a rehiring list.

Hundreds of children streamed through the front doors of the school under the watch of school police and some 100 protesters, who opposed the disruption of removing the entire staff for the rest of the school year.


The protesters, who included parents and students at Miramonte, held signs bashing the Los Angeles Unified School District, proclaiming "Give us our teachers back" and "LAUSD Shame on You."

"It's kind of hard," said Lorena Sorian, whose sixth-grader attends Miramonte. "You barely know your teacher, and they're gone. The kids don't know what's going on."

Sorian said the arrest of the two teachers made her think twice about enrolling her younger children at Miramonte next fall.

Sheriff's investigators, meanwhile, say they've found 200 additional bondage-style photos they believe were taken by one teacher who's accused of committing lewd acts on 23 children over a five-year period.

'Devastating'
Parents were invited to sit with their children in class Thursday to help with the transition. They will be allowed to attend the first 30 minutes of class.

Read Miramonte School Reopens Amid Child Abuse Investigation on NBCLosAngeles.com

"We want parents, as much as possible, to feel comfortable under the circumstances here," Tom Waldman, director of communications for the school district, told NBC News. "It's unprecedented. This is a very devastating thing for everybody here. Hopefully, over time, we'll get back to the business of learning."

New staff members attended orientation at the school Wednesday. They met with outgoing staff members to discuss lesson plans.

The removed staff members were transferred to Augustus Hawkins High School, a facility under construction in South Los Angeles. The Hawkins school is expected to open in the fall.

The outgoing staff members will be counseled and interviewed as part of the child abuse investigation. An independent commission led by retired California Supreme Court Chief Justice Carlos Moreno will conduct the district's investigation. Former students and staff members at Miramonte also will be interviewed.

Costs and counts
The new hires will cost the district $5.7 million, Waldman told the Los Angeles Times. The cash-strapped district will still pay the teachers and staff who were removed.

Allegations came to light last week with the arrest of Mark Berndt, 61, who was charged with committing lewd acts on 23 children, ages 6 to 10, between 2005 and 2010. He is being held in lieu of $2.3 million bail.

Later in the week, another teacher, Martin Springer, 49, was arrested on suspicion of committing lewd acts on children. Springer was charged with three counts of lewd acts upon a child under the age of 14, according to authorities.

Another student who accused Springer of fondling her reportedly recanted her story, NBC News reported. Springer was being held in lieu of $2 million bail.

A film processor provided authorities with 40 images that showed Berndt with children, some of whom had blindfolds over their eyes and spoons of a white substance held to their mouths. The substance was later identified as Berndt's semen.

NBCLosAngeles.com's Jonathan Lloyd, John Cadiz Klemack and Toni Guinyard contributed to this report, as did The Associated Press.

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