How Did Accused Former Miramonte Elementary School Teachers Pass Background Checks?

Coming to the national media spotlight in early 2012, two teachers at Los Angeles school Miramonte Elementary were accused of lewd acts involving children. While the full staff has since been screened and replaced, parents are wondering about background checks; mainly, how did these accused former teachers slip under the radar?

It’s not an easy question to answer, and as NBC Los Angeles points out, California significantly revised its background check policy in 1997, after a Sacramento teacher was killed by a just-hired janitor with a criminal record. Since that point, NBC explains, potential teachers, administrative employees, and all other staff go through a live scan with fingerprints to bring up all records. At the time of the Sacramento incident, 50 teachers in Los Angeles were found to have criminal convictions.

Two of the accused former teachers had been at the school for several years, if not decades. How both passed background checks is uncertain, although a few possibilities exist: neither had been convicted previously of crimes, or the background checks conducted around 1997 were not thorough enough. Before appointed, the new Miramonte staff members, on the other hand, were rigorously screened. On the other hand, parents of students don’t think this measure is enough, and rather, they prefer all teachers to be screened periodically.

For those not up to date on the incidents at Miramonte, the buildup to the staff changeover essentially began in December 2010, when authorities discovered then-teacher Mark Berndt to have dozens of pictures of students. Suspended and then fired, Berndt reached a settlement on his case in June 2011. In January 2012, Berndt was arrested for committing felony molestation with 23 children, which is documented by nearly 40 photographs of the teacher performing lewd acts. Originally held on a $2.3 million bail, the amount increased to $23 million.

Aside from Berndt, another teacher, Martin Springer, was arrested for lewd conduct, and a former teacher’s aide, Ricardo Guevara, was discovered to have been convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2005 for similar crimes.