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Miramonte Elementary Teachers Return for Strange First Day Back at School

How many elementary schoolers can say that four TV news vans and 16 psychiatric social workers showed up to their campus on the first day of the school?

Welcome to the strange life of a Miramonte Elementary School student. After a horrifying sex scandal rocked the South L.A. campus last year -- longtime teacher Mark Berndt was accused of feeding his semen to children, among other atrocities -- its entire teaching staff was removed and quarantined in an unopened high school nearby, "rubber room" style. The remaining staffers (office folks, janitors, etc.) were transfered over to other campuses...

... as part LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy's drastic sweep. The bold new superintendent apparently felt a complete spring cleaning was the only way to assure Miramonte parents that their children were no longer in harm's way.

But as of today, says LAUSD spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry, 43 of those 76 teachers are back at school. The majority of the remaining 33 have "followed students to the new school that was built nearby to relieve overcrowding," she says, while others have transfered to schools closer to their homes. And according to KNX news radio reporter Claudia Peschiutta, a few more teachers actually retired after the scandal dropped in February. (None, however, were fired, despite numerous false media reports.)

Not a single member of Miramonte's teaching staff has been accused of wrongdoing in the interim period, says Pollard-Terry.

So what were they doing for all those months, over at the Augustus F. Hawkins High School ghost town? "They were doing professional development," says the LAUSD spokeswoman. "Curriculum, training, that kind of thing."

Near the end of April, a Fox11 reporter dropped by the high school to check on the Miramonte exiles. It was an odd scene. According to LAist, one unidentified teacher leaving for the day said that he and his colleagues were mostly just doing busywork like "learning how to knit and sew."

So it appears the Miramonte cleansing was essentially one big PR stunt -- one that the teachers union repeatedly insisted was "unfairly punishing and stigmatizing dozens of completely innocent employees and depriving hundreds of students of a consistent education."

Anyway, Superintendent Deasy and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa have moved on to bigger and bond-ier things: They announced the opening of 20 new LAUSD campuses today, under the district's $19.5 billion "New School Construction and Modernization" program. And, in a stroke of very convenient timing, a district-commissioned study was released this morning to show that young kids' test scores improve when they're transfered to shiny new schools.

However, study co-author Bruce Fuller tells KPCC that "it's not [just] the shininess, the fresh paint, the cleaner hallways. It's also that these new schools are smaller communities at the elementary level attracted the younger, better trained teaching staff."

Swell. But are underperforming schools like Miramonte getting left in the construction dust?

And amid all this LAUSD expansion, what kind of new precautions are being put in place to ensure another Berndt doesn't slip through the cracks? Because state lawmakers certainly aren't taking care of it.

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