In the fall of 2010, an employee at a photo shop in Los Angeles noticed something strange about a series of pictures from one of the customers, a local teacher, and decided to contact the police. That decision has led to the conviction of a third grade teacher from Miramonte schools in LA, Mark Berndt, after it was determined that he had been spoon feeding his students his own semen.
The pictures contained students between the ages of seven and 10. Some were blindfolded, some had their mouths covered by tape, others had giant cockroaches on their face and still more had spoons full of a milky substance near their mouths. Once the pictures were turned over to the police, it was determined that an investigation would need to take place and detectives began gathering evidence.
The investigation would take more than a year to complete and what police discovered was nothing short of horrifying to parents and administrators at the school. What they found has landed Berndt in prison for the next 25 years, which, at the age of 62 will likely translate into a life sentence.
It turns out that, at the very least, between the years 2005 and 2010, Berndt blindfolded, gagged and fed his students his own sperm as part of “taste testing” games that he devised. He told the children that he was blindfolding them to protect their eyes from the bright lights and the camera as part of the game. Then he would feed them spoonfuls of his semen or cookies coated in his semen.
While investigating Berndt, police uncovered around 400 photographs depicting these types of behaviors. Not all of the students in the pictures have been identified. Police also discovered a spoon in Berndt’s garbage at school that, after months of analysis, was determined to contain traces of semen that were a genetic match to the teacher and that could be seen clearly in the pictures with the students he was “feeding.”
Though the investigation took a year to complete, Mark Berndt was not permitted to remain at the school long after the police were tipped off. On January 7, 2011 the school was notified of the allegations against him and he was immediately removed from his position at the school. At the next board meeting it was decided to terminate him, a decision he appealed before resigning in February of that year. He was put under surveillance by the police to ensure he stayed away from children until his arrest in February 2012. There he was held on $23 million bail and charged with 23 counts of lewd sexual conduct.
On November 15, 2013 Berndt plead guilty and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Upon Berndt’s arrest, many parents were enraged that the school district wasn’t more forthcoming with the fact that an investigation into Berndt was taking place. With 32 years of experience at the school, many parents had children in Berndt’s class and are questioning what their children might have endured.
Complaints surrounding the teacher go back as far as the early 90s, when young girls in his class reported to administrators that Berndt’s hands would move “up and down” while he was seated at his desk at the front of the class and that they had once spotted a jar of Vaseline in his drawer. Another girl reported that Berndt had tried to touch her inappropriately under her desk but that she had pushed him away. No charges were filed in either incident.
Since the current allegations were able to result in charges being pressed, the school district has been slammed with hundreds of lawsuits. To date, around five dozen have been settled, to the tune of $29.5 million, but more than 70 are still pending.
Berndt’s sentence cannot undo the trauma this teacher caused his students and community after feeding the children he was supposed to protect his semen. Many in the community are still trying to come to terms with what has happened and it is likely that this process will be a lengthy one. During his sentencing, mothers of the 23 children spoke on behalf of his victims, claiming that the boys and girls had trouble trusting schools or even food that wasn’t prepared by their parents.
By Vanessa Blanchard