A veteran teacher at Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica was sentenced to 14 years in state prison Monday, December 22nd, after pleading guilty to multiple charges of sexually molesting nine of his female students.

Thomas Arthur Beltran, 61, who taught English as a second language to seventh-graders at Lincoln Middle School, entered a guilty plea to seven counts of continuous sexual abuse on a child, two counts of lewd act on a child and one count of sexual penetration with a foreign object on a child under 14, Los Angeles County deputy district attorney Robin Sax said. He also admitted to sexually assaulting two additional female students, but the charges were not included in the case because they were beyond the statute of limitations, Sax said.

Beltran entered the plea prior to a preliminary hearing on the case at the Los Angeles County Superior Court Airport Courthouse December 22nd. Superior Court judge William Hollingsworth immediately sentenced the Santa Monica teacher to 14 years in state prison.

In addition, Hollingsworth ordered that Beltran be required to register as a sex offender upon his release from prison. The Santa Monica teacher could have faced life in prison if he was convicted by a jury, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Beltran had worked at Lincoln Middle School for about 20 years and was with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District for about 30 years.

School board members said they hoped Beltran’s guilty plea will bring some closure to the case, which received widespread media attention.

“Our focus has always been on trying to protect the students that brought the allegations forward,” former Santa Monica-Malibu school board president Oscar de la Torre said. “Now that there seems to be some confirmation by this [guilty plea], we hope that there will be some closure.

“From the district’s perspective, we have strengthened our policies and our protocols to ensure that this never happens again.”

Newly appointed school board president Ralph Mechur added, “It’s an unfortunate situation, but we are happy that it has come to a quick resolution.”

Beltran was arrested in Culver City May 3rd, just one day after a 12-year-old student, accompanied by her parents, alleged to police detectives that she had been molested by the teacher. Following Beltran’s arrest, ten additional girls made similar allegations of sexual molestation, including one who alleged that she had been molested for more than a year, police said.

Sax said both prosecutors and defense attorneys were hoping to come to a resolution on the case and she noted the significance of Beltran pleading guilty to the counts, as opposed to no contest.

“It’s nice to have him take some responsibility,” Sax said of the plea. “It was a huge relief and a good decision.”

Robert Berke, an attorney representing Beltran, had not returned phone calls seeking comment before Argonaut press time.

Sax said the case involving Beltran may influence alleged victims of other child abuse cases to come forward.

Following Beltran’s arrest, the Santa Monica-Malibu school board proposed revising its Child Abuse Policy to strengthen procedures. The revised policy proposes that “mandated reporters” — anyone responsible for the care, custody and control of children — including teachers and teachers’ aides, report all known or suspected incidents of child abuse and neglect.

The policy would require that the superintendent or a designee provide training on the reporting duties of mandated reporters and the plan more thoroughly describes the definitions of child abuse and neglect, according to district officials.

De la Torre said the school board has established a committee comprised of parents and staff that has worked on the policy reform effort, providing training to students and parents on how to recognize signs of possible abuse.

The district has conducted a transparent and collaborative process in addressing the Beltran case and has considered a variety of measures, including background checks of school volunteers, to help prevent similar incidents in the future, de la Torre said.

“We’ve been very comprehensive in terms of our response to the problem,” he said.

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