Report Condemns Penn State; Miramonte Abuse Scandal
Aired July 12, 2012 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DR. DREW PINSKY, HOST: Here we go.
And later, parents sue a California school district for failing to protect their kids from an alleged pedophile teacher.
Let`s get started.
Next up, did a code of silence lead to the alleged abuse of at least 23 elementary school kids in Los Angeles? We`ll talk about that after the break.
PINSKY: Straight ahead, are child sex predators hiding in our kid`s schools? Dramatic new developments in the horrific new allegations of abuse at a California elementary school a parent of one of the alleged young victims is calling in.
Plus, your call and questions about anything and everything.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
"ALEX", ALLEGED VICTIM AT MIRAMONTE ELEMENTARY: (INAUDIBLE) is like a real laid-back teacher, like one of those cool teachers, like who you look forward go-to-going to his class every day. Yes, I was (INAUDIBLE).
PINSKY: What did that mean?
ALEX: Well, like I said on Fridays, like, would you have little prizes for the kids who were good, like the good kids. Would blindfold them and give them prizes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: That was a boy we`ll call Alex. I had spoken to him in February. Now 14, he is still coping with abuse he allegedly suffered at the hands of Miramonte elementary school teacher Mark Burnt.
Now, Burnt is charged with committing lewd acts with 23 children in his classroom. Parents now suing the school district. They say a code of silence hid the abuse that may have gone on for decades.
Joining me again, Brian Claypool, attorney for some of the alleged victims at Miramonte School. And CNN Espanol reporter Jacqueline Hurtado.
Brian, was there a culture of silence there?
CLAYPOOL: Categorically, there was a culture of silence. And I can tell you, I verified that because since I was last on your show, I received phone calls from at least three teachers who teach in the Los Angeles unified school district who had gone to administration in the Los Angeles unified school district and reported suspected child abuse. And what happened to them? They were retaliated against. They were told we don`t believe you.
They were demoted, and they were practically run out of the school. That proves that what they are doing is facilitating a code of silence, and they`re saying don`t report this.
PINSKY: Is that the administration or is that other teachers?
CLAYPOOL: It starts at the top, Dr. Drew. This has been going on for 20 or 30 years. Berndt was doing this back in the early 1990s. It`s a culture. It`s not unlike Penn State. It`s a culture that`s been created. And I`m telling you, it is all about the money.
A lot of folks don`t know this, but for every child that doesn`t show up in a classroom in a Los Angeles Unified School District, the district loses money. They get money if kids show up at school. So, then they have a decision to make.
Are we going to take this teacher to task for alleged child abuse and risk losing a bunch of funding or are we going to roll this under the carpet because we got to run a big business here?
PINSKY: Now, Jacqueline, you`ve been giving us the point of view of the community, the community members, parents who have the kids at the schools. What`s the current feeling on the ground there?
JACQUELINE HURTADO, REPORTER, CNN ON ESPANOL: Well, I`ve recently spoken to a few parents and I talked to this woman who said it took her about a month to actually report what was going on that her son was a victim.
PINSKY: And you told me they were fearful of reporting, right?
HURTADO: Yes, because of their legal status. We have to remember that wherever Miramonte is located, the community is a working class community. The majority of the community members are immigrants and a vast majority of them are undocumented. So, many of them didn`t report what was going on because they feared that authorities would go after them because of their legal status.
PINSKY: And you would also taught me that the way the Hispanic community looks at a teacher, it`s almost like a parent or family member, and we see wouldn`t (ph) think of reporting, or you might be a big resistance to that?
HURTADO: Yes. A lot of the parents that I spoke to said that they really never saw anything bad with Mr. Berndt hugging their children, attending birthday parties or things like that. So, when they heard the news, they were extremely surprised that this was going on for several years allegedly.
PINSKY: But you mentioned something here, Jacqueline, attending birthday parties. Brian, that`s sort of a boundary violation already. That`s -- you know, any time teachers show up in situations where they`re not teaching, kind of you`re in a circumstance where it can be problematic.
And I guess, the community sort of welcomed that kind of thing. But the reality is, professional standards would suggest otherwise.
CLAYPOOL: Dr. Drew, clearly, there are red flags that were floating everywhere. At Miramonte, red flags floating at Penn State. We, as human beings, have to see these red flags.
CLAYPOOL: Inviting kids to parties. I interviewed some kids were Berndt had them on his shoulders out in the middle of the play area, girls, little girls on his shoulders. I mean, at some point, you have to say this is not --
PINSKY: Not OK.
CLAYPOOL: Not OK. You don`t even need the law to tell that you need to pick the phone up and say, look, I think this dude is weird. Let`s look into it. Do something.
PINSKY: Right. Now, I understand, Brian, you have something that you wanted to report here on our show, something brand new that I don`t know what this is, you tell me.
CLAYPOOL: Right. I wanted to, you know, announce on your show that after the Miramonte scandal unfolded, I took it upon my self to write a letter to President Obama and to his wife, Michelle Obama, and I implored them to look into the Miramonte scandal, because I`m a single parent of a six-year-old girl, and I had to look into the eyes of all these kids and see the terror in their face.
And I asked President Obama to launch a federal investigation of Miramonte and the Los Angeles Unified School District. Please to report that I received a letter from the Washington, D.C. FBI office. They`ve opened a file in the local FBI office, and we are very, very hopeful that very soon, there`s going to be a full-pledged federal investigation of Miramonte and the Los Angeles Unified School District.
PINSKY: I know. We`ll stay on top of that. I`m certain Jacqueline will stay on top of that, too. I`m going to take a quick call. Ashley in Georgia -- Ashley.
ASHLEY, GEORGIA: Yes.
PINSKY: Go ahead.
ASHLEY: I called in about -- I`ve had an experience in high school where my high school teacher would press himself up against me, like his genital region, like in the hallway when it was really crowded, and he would like whisper in my ear, squeeze me. And then he`d kind of cough, excuse me.
PINSKY: Oh, my God! Did you report that? Did you get any support?
ASHLEY: No. I never did.
PINSKY: I mean, there`s actually name for that. It`s called frauderism. It`s not OK. It`s a violation of your basic integrity of your body boundaries.
ASHLEY: Yes. And I felt that. I felt completely violated, but I had prior sexual abuse that I had reported from a family member, and I reported and was not believed.
PINSKY: Ashley, unfortunate and horrible reality is that abusers somehow pick out people that have been victimized and they intuitively know that that`s a good victim who won`t come to their own defense because they`ve been victimized. Will you please -- let`s just do an exercise. Report that guy now. Brian, don`t you think she should? Just in case he`s out there still doing his thing.
CLAYPOOL: Just to validate for you, Ashley, we`ve had a couple young adults in their early 20s that have come forward and contacted my office to ask that same question. Can we still report Mr. Berndt for something that happened 15 years ago? Absolutely do it, Ashley. It`s going to help you feel better and help you work through this.
And also, you will then know that you will stop this individual from doing this to somebody else.
PINSKY: And remember, this is a new day. When Penn State has elevated this conversation to something that`s being broadcast throughout the country, I think people know to take this stuff seriously, finally. Thank you, Ashley.
We`re going to talk to a father whose son was also allegedly abused at Miramonte Elementary School and your calls. That`s next.
PINSKY: We`ve been discussing an apparent code of silence at Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles. Apparently, this allowed someone power to allegedly abuse students for a year on year (ph) basis. Now, we had a call, Ashley, a few minutes ago, it was a very intense call. And I want to put a little emphasis on this.
I used the word called frauderism, which is when people lean up against you, they kind of get off on that, and may say things inappropriate, may make you feel like they`re violating your body space, which they are. And we`ve had a lot of calls today, people asking, was this sexual abuse? Did somebody abuse me?
If you feel like it was sexual abuse, please report it. Do not sit in silence. Tell people, because the probability is, if you felt violated, you were not the only person that this person has violated. Brian, do you agree with me on this?
CLAYPOOL: Dr. Drew, absolutely. The law even says you report suspected child abuse. It doesn`t have to be actual.
PINSKY: That`s the point.
PINSKY: Yes. And this is the part that killed me about the whole Penn State thing. We, as physicians, know that if we even have hear say the possibility, we hand it off to an investigating organization.
CLAYPOOL: Absolutely. You know what offended me about the Penn State was when that lawyers came out and said we -- these allegations were vague. We didn`t know they were --
PINSKY: It doesn`t matter.
CLAYPOOL: It doesn`t matter. If you suspect it, you`ve got to call it in.
PINSKY: Now, Jacqueline, I understand there`s some other legal action being taken at Miramonte right now? Tell me about that.
HURTADO: Yes. On Tuesday, law firm presented a second lawsuit against the school district and two principals that were at Miramonte, and what this new lawsuit claims is not the children are involved in this one but the parents.
On behalf of the parents, this lawsuit is being filed saying that the children that were victimized or alleged victims of this case, their families, are being affected psychologically. So, there`s a new law -- a new lawsuit that`s been presented on behalf of the parents of 14 children.
PINSKY: And you have told me, the parents did feel somewhat terrorized by all of this for fear that they were going to be deported, fear -- all kinds of fears that, you know, maybe we don`t always think about, but these people, these families are feeling.
HURTADO: Yes. And when I spoke to some of these parents, they say they just didn`t know what to do. I guess, it just took them by surprise, everything that was going on. One of the parents that I interviewed said that they looked up to Mark Berndt like someone important.
Whatever he said, they would do it if he said that their children needed to study hard or they needed to be disciplined a certain way, they would have probably taken his advice because he`s a teacher.
PINSKY: OK. Well, speaking of parents and how they respond, on the phone is Paul. This is not his real name. He is the father of Alex who says that he had been victimized at Miramonte. Paul, if could you tell us what Alex alleges his teacher did to him.
VOICE OF "PAUL," SON ALLEGEDLY ABUSED BY TEACHER: Hi, Dr. Drew. Thank you for allowing me to be on your show again.
PINSKY: Yes, Paul.
"PAUL": (INAUDIBLE) he never told me nothing. The fact of being blind fold and putting this stuff in his mouth, you know, is kind of horrific for him to live through, you know?
PINSKY: And Paul, how is your son, Alex, doing now?
"PAUL": He`s doing great, doctor. He`s doing great. He`s in high school now. He knows everything is a struggle. We try not to talk about this, but we`re there for him. He already talks about it, but come on, it`s on the news every other day. You know, there`s (inaudible) reacting over all this.
Teachers that are arriving with all this problems, you know? Me, my personal opinion, they`re doing a lousy job because if they would have done the right thing since decades ago, then all these allegations after Mr. Berndt (INAUDIBLE) all these new teachers are coming out. I mean, what`s going on, you know, the LAUSD should focus on getting to the bottom of this. When are they going to put a stop to all this?
PINSKY: Paul, I`m going to interrupt you for a second. Brian, you wanted to comment on this.
CLAYPOOL: Yes. Well, two things. First of all, Alex is also in counseling. We`ve made sure that he`s got counseling. He`s regularly going to counseling. And another -- in order to try to stop this from happening, I think Penn State is a gift to us today.
CLAYPOOL: Looking at in a positive light. It`s a blueprint for us in the future to try to make positive monumental change.
CLAYPOOL: The only way we`re going to do that, though, I really believe this is, we really have to start prosecuting top officials, like at Penn State, for what`s called criminal conspiracy to commit child endangerment.
When you start sending a message to top executives at the Los Angeles Unified School District, at Penn State, or this could be happening at any other school across the country, you start sending a message that there are repercussions for your failure to stop known child abuse on your territory and you`re going to -- then you`re going to pay the price.
PINSKY: Do we need to bring administrators in from all across the land and help them understand what their obligations are, reporting obligations and that sort of thing? I don`t think anybody does that.
CLAYPOOL: You know what, that`s where I think you and I differ. I know you`re trying to see this in a positive light. I just -- I don`t buy it. I really think --
PINSKY: You think they do know? I don`t know that they know. If they do, fantastic. I hope they do.
CLAYPOOL: Consciously, no. They`re taught, they`re trained, they`re mandated orders.
PINSKY: Fair enough. If you say so. Jacqueline, thank you for reporting, and we`ll keep checking in with you on how that community is doing. Brian, as always, I appreciate you coming here and telling us about that -- particularly about that FBI story. It`s something we`ll stay on top of.
CLAYPOOL: Thank you, Dr. Drew.