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LA schools ban blindfolds in lessons after scandal

Friday - 3/2/2012, 4:39pm  ET

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The Los Angeles Unified School District has barred lessons involving blindfolds and classroom-made butter in the wake of a recent teacher sex scandal at an elementary school.

The district sent a memo to principals Feb. 23 saying blindfolding might be negatively perceived because of the case involving Mark Berndt, who has pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of lewd conduct. He is accused of photographing students who were blindfolded as they ate cookies smeared with his semen, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday ( http://lat.ms/AgoEYx).

Blindfolding is part of a fourth-grade reading program designed to teach students sensory details. In pairs, one student is blindfolded and handed an object, and the blindfolded child answers the partner's questions about the object.

In his memo, Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Jaime Aquino suggested that students could explore objects placed in an opaque bag instead.

Butter-making has also been banned at one school because students ate the finished product on crackers. A parent complained about the lesson at a North Hollywood school, causing the principal to cancel it.

Some educators question whether the district is going overboard in its response to the actions of one teacher.

"Half of me is laughing; half of me is crying," said Larry Sand, president of California Teacher Empowerment Network, who taught in LAUSD schools for 24 years. "Is this the way the district thinks they're going to change things?"

Meanwhile, South Pasadena attorney Luis Carrillo said he filed 33 legal claims against the district Thursday, charging that administrators ignored warning signs that Berndt was engaging in improper conduct with children at Miramonte Elementary School.

Carrillo told reporters at a news conference that he filed 20 claims, which are precursors to lawsuits, on behalf of children who were allegedly victimized by 61-year-old Berndt. Another 13 claims were filed on behalf of parents who say they were traumatized when they found out the teacher had been arrested.

Carrillo, who is one of about five lawyers representing Miramonte families, said several complaints about Berndt were made as far back as 1990 and 1991, but action was never taken.

"The school district was asleep through all these alarm bells," he said. "These are tremendous warning signs."

The district had no immediate response.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)