Teacher charged with molesting five students at Lincoln Middle School

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Thomas Arthur Beltran

As parents and school officials deal with the aftermath of the arrest of Lincoln Middle School teacher Thomas Arthur Beltran on charges of molesting five girls at the school, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday that Beltran is being charged with 14 counts, including eight counts of lewd acts on a child.

Beltran was arraigned Tuesday afternoon. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Deputy District Attorney Robin Sax Katzenstein, who is assigned to the case, told the court she had videotape showing Beltran molesting a girl in his classroom.

Judge Keith Schwartz raised Beltran’s bail to $3.3 million at the prosecutor’s request. If convicted, Beltran, 60, faces up to life in prison, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

With media crews filming, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District officials sought Monday to bring reassurance to hundreds of parents regarding the arrest of Beltran.

Parents, who learned only hours before the meeting of the weekend arrest of Beltran, nearly filled the 500-seat auditorium to hear Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, law enforcement and the Santa Monica school’s officials outline the facts and offer support.

“We are in a state of shock, dismay and confusion but we wanted to give you this information,” said Lincoln school principal Tristan Komlos, referring to staff. “We want to come together as stakeholders in the [Lincoln Middle School] community to best support our students and each other in this difficult situation.”

Beltran, who is married and teaches English as a second language and has worked at Lincoln for two decades, was arrested Saturday on suspicion of sexually molesting five female students at the school. According to the District Attorney’s Office, Santa Monica Police arrested Beltran on Saturday, a day after they said a 12-year-old female Lincoln Middle School student reported the alleged abuse to her parents. Four additional girls made similar allegations, investigators said. One of the alleged victims told authorities she had been molested for more than a year, police said. Detectives believe there are more victims.

Beltran was booked at the Santa Monica jail and held on statutory $1.1 million bail, said Santa Monica Police Lieutenant Darrell Lowe. Thanking parents for their trust, Komlos said the majority of students attended school Monday. While maintaining that the district’s goal was “retaining a sense of normalcy,” Komlos, perhaps referring to a similar case in the Los Angeles Unified School District, said, “Student safety is our highest priority. We take the allegations very seriously.”

Seeking to buttress official reassurance, district superintendent Dianne Talarico said all credentialed employees of the school district are required by law to report suspected child abuse to Child Protective Services. The district wants to have nationally certified child predator safety educator Pattie Fitzgerald, who headed a child safety workshop in Malibu last September, work with students and staff, Talarico added.

Komlos outlined steps the school has taken to deal with the crisis, including counselors on campus “as long as they are needed to assist staff and students.” Her letters to parents include warning signs of trauma and mental health services offered in Santa Monica.

Like her assistant principals, Carl Hobkirk and Francis Costanzo, as well as SMMUSD Assistant Superintendent Mike Matthews, Komlos urged parents to remind children that whenever an adult or friend does something to make the child feel uncomfortable, the action should be reported immediately to a trusted adult as part of an ongoing dialogue.

“We can never assume that a statement is a lie. We are reminded every year that if we do not report child abuse, we can lose our credentials,” Matthews said, referring to teachers and other professional staff. The former Malibu High School principal also tried to reassure parents on faculty background checks and reporting procedures.

Before someone is hired by the district, they are fingerprinted and the prints are sent to the federal Department of Justice, Matthews said. The district is notified of any arrest of a serious nature during the person’s employment.

“We do not hire anyone until they are cleared and we feel very assured with this common practice,” Matthews said, referring to the fingerprint follow-up.

As to reporting procedures, Matthews said disciplinary issues are first brought to the principal. The principal investigates the complaint, responds to the complainant and takes action. If the complainant is not satisfied, the matter can be taken to the state Board of Education, Matthews said.

“We know true learning cannot occur unless a student feels safe,” Matthews said.

The Beltran case follows the recent arrest of a former assistant principal for the LAUSD, Steve Thomas Rooney, on charges of molesting three students. According to the Los Angeles Times, district officials transferred Rooney to Markham Middle School in Watts just months after he had been investigated for allegedly having sex with a student. He has been ordered to stand trial and district officials have been heavily criticized for allowing Rooney back into a school after he had been accused of sexual contact with a student, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Anyone with information on the investigation is urged to call the Santa Monica Police Department Tip Line, 310.458.8449, or anonymous tip hotline 800.78.CRIME (27463).