Crime

New report details how Atascadero teacher allegedly took videos up students’ skirts

Chris Berdoll, an Atascadero Fine Arts teacher facing 44 child pornography-related felony charges, appears in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court on Monday, September 24, 2018.
Chris Berdoll, an Atascadero Fine Arts teacher facing 44 child pornography-related felony charges, appears in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court on Monday, September 24, 2018. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

An Atascadero school district report details how a sixth-grade teacher allegedly used his smartphone and tablet to take videos up students’ skirts, so brazenly that he even touched them at times.

Chris Berdoll, 48, who’s taught at the Atascadero Fine Arts Academy since August 2011, was arrested on Sept. 10 and later charged with 44 felonies related to child pornography production and possession.

The Atascadero Unified School District placed Berdoll on paid administrative leave on Aug. 31, and he resigned from his position on Sept. 27.

Berdoll has remained out of jail since posting his $500,000 bail. He pleaded not guilty to all charges on Oct. 18.

BERDOLL, CHRIS A00693241
Chris Berdoll, the Atascadero, California, Fine Arts Academy teacher charged with 44 counts of child pornography formally resigned from his position effective September 27, 2018. San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office

The Tribune filed a California Public Records Act request to obtain a copy of a Title IX report detailing an investigation that Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo — a Fresno law firm retained by the district — conducted into accusations against Berdoll.

The Tribune also requested the amount of money Berdoll was paid during the 19 days he was on paid leave. He took in $7,034, or $389 per day, according to Curt Eichperger, assistant superintendent for human resources.

What the report says

The report describes at least seven instances in which Berdoll allegedly used his smartphone or tablet to record the backsides, legs and crotches of female students in his sixth-grade math class during the first two weeks of class in August.

A criminal complaint filed on Sept. 24 goes further, listing 14 victims involved in alleged incidents that occurred between Feb. 12, 2017, and Aug. 28, 2018.

The report on the investigation describes only alleged incidents from 2018 — between the start of the school year on Aug. 15 and Aug. 31, when Berdoll was placed on leave.

Investigators interviewed 12 students for the report, and seven are mentioned in the context of various incidents.

In all of the scenarios described, Berdoll is accused of clandestinely recording his students in a manner noticeable enough that at times he ended up touching their bodies or clothing in the process.

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The report also describes how he allegedly set up classroom situations to improve his vantage point, such as positioning a pencil sharpener in a high location, asking students to hang posters or requesting that they move their seats.

Details of the incidents

During the week of Aug. 20, 2018, Berdoll asked a student, referred to as Student One in the report, to help set up for a science lesson in his classroom during a break. Two other students, Student Two and Student Three, overheard and asked to join.

As Student One used a chair to climb onto a countertop and hang posters, Berdoll allegedly approached her from behind with a smartphone or tablet and recorded her backside.

When Student One turned around, she realized Berdoll was behind her and saw him allegedly pull the recording device toward his chest, “as if he knew he had been caught doing something improper.”

After the students finished setting up for the science lesson, Berdoll suggested they have a drawing contest at the white board in the front of the classroom, the report says.

Berdoll then sat in a chair a few feet in front of the board and faced the students. Students One and Two turned around and saw Berdoll allegedly holding his smartphone or tablet with the camera lens facing their backsides to record them while they drew.

On Aug. 24, a different student, Student Four, was wearing a dress and standing up during testing in Berdoll’s math class. As Berdoll sat in his rolling desk chair, helping Student Four and others, he allegedly reached out and placed his smartphone under her dress with the camera lens facing up.

According to witnesses, Berdoll allegedly held his phone under Student Four’s dress for several seconds and touched the bottom fringe of her clothing as he positioned the device.

On Aug. 28, another student, Student Six, was sitting at her desk table near Berdoll’s desk with three other female students.

Student Six dropped her pencil and got up to retrieve it. As she bent down, she glanced up and saw Berdoll allegedly holding his smartphone on his knee/thigh area and pointing it toward Student Four, who was wearing a dress.

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Chris Berdoll, a sixth-grade teacher, is accused of taking inappropriate videos of female students at the Atascadero Fine Arts Academy. Lindsey Holden lholden@thetribunenews.com

Student Six noticed Berdoll’s phone was allegedly zoomed in on Student Four’s crotch area.

At different points early in the school year, Berdoll told Student Four to move away from her spot at the end of her desk table. This allowed Berdoll to allegedly position his smartphone — either on his knee/thigh area or with his arm extended under the table — and point the lens toward the legs and crotches of Students Six, Five and One.

Witnesses advised Student One to wear pants and cross her legs. One witness allegedly saw the smartphone screen displaying Student One’s spread legs and crotch and noticed numbers that indicated the device was recording video.

The last incident described allegedly occurred on Aug. 29, the day before district officials contacted the Atascadero Police Department to report the accusations.

Berdoll’s next preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 8 in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court. His attorney, Catherine Swysen, did not respond to a request for comment.

Anyone who suspects their child may have been victimized is encouraged to contact the Atascadero Police Department at 805-461-5051 or Curt Eichperger, assistant superintendent of human resources for Atascadero Unified School District, at 805-462-4200.

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseymholden
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