LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The Los Angeles school district has agreed to pay $139 million to families of students subject to sexual abuse by an elementary school teacher who infamously took bondage-style photos of some pupils, school officials said on Friday.
The Los Angeles Unified School District and attorneys for the families settled all remaining litigation in the case involving the teacher as jury selection was underway for a trial in some of the cases. The school district had previously paid $30 million to settle dozens of other related lawsuits.
“Throughout this case, we have shared in the pain felt by these children, their families and the community,” schools Superintendent Ramon Cortines said in a statement.
Mark Berndt, the 63-year-old teacher at the center of the litigation, pleaded no contest a year ago to 23 counts of lewd acts upon a child and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Investigators found he took bondage-style photographs of his young students, some with semen-laced cookies held to their blindfolded faces or cockroaches crawling on them.
The revelations of the abuse by the third-grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in a working-class area of Los Angeles touched off protests by infuriated parents shortly after his arrest in January 2012.
“By every measure the community has healed and the school isdoing well. This is really the final chapter in that whole odyssey,” said Dave Holmquist, general counsel for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The latest settlements of $139 million and the previous agreements for $30 million that the district reached in civil litigation over Berndt’s actions involve a total of about 150 children who were pupils of Berndt from 2005 onward, a spokesman for the district said.
The children alleged Berndt fed them cookies laced with semen, attorneys for the district said in a conference call.
The $139 million settlement announced on Thursday allows the child plaintiffs to avoid the emotional turmoil of going through a series of trials that could have lasted years and would also have proved embarrassing for the district.
A judge will determine how to distribute the settlement money among the families of the roughly 80 children involved in the latest agreement, based on such factors as how badly they were emotionally scarred and what kind of therapy they will need, attorneys for the district said.