A husband and wife who worked at a high school are being accused of grooming students, as the wife, Bertha Cerna, is wanted by police.
Bertha Cerna was a teacher and wrestling cheerleading coach at the Toppenish High School in Washington. Her husband Johnny L. Cerna was vice principal and wrestling coach at the school and his father is the district’s current superintendent. In 2021 Bertha and her husband were investigated for grooming and sexually abusing underage students. They both lost their teaching jobs, but now the school is being sued and Bertha is wanted for her alleged crimes.
Last week, the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office began “an additional investigation” into Bertha Cerna’s misconduct. In 2021 a student came forward claiming that Johnny sent her “inappropriate” text messages. She went to another teacher for help and admitted that both the Cernas had given her alcohol and been offering her drugs. The student had been to the teachers’ home multiple times where Bertha allegedly bragged about having sex with male students and went so far as to show the girl pictures of her classmates’ penises.
The school opened an investigation regarding the claims in May of 2021 and placed the couple on leave. It was not until the beginning of this year that the couple was fired under the pretense that their crimes “were more probable than not,” but no one was arrested. Then, just this June, the student filed a lawsuit against the school claiming that Bertha and Johnny Cerna had been grooming her. It notes how she had to obtain an order of protection against Johnny L Cerna to remain safe from further harm, but that the superintendent was well aware of the Cernas behavior and rumors of their misconduct had circulated for years.
During the investigation, other students came forward to report misconduct. One admitted that she drank at Bertha and Johnny Cerna’s home when she was on the cheerleading squad. During this time she learned of a male student who had allegedly engaged in a sexual relationship with Bertha before he graduated.
After being contacted by law enforcement the former student admitted to having sex with Bertha Cerna. He noted how she offered him alcohol and cocaine, and that she was eager to set up more sexual encounters with him before he graduated. This case has revealed the dangers of allowing school districts to investigate child sexual abuse cases instead of leaving that full authority to the police.
While Bertha Cerna is now wanted for her crimes, and other potential charges, her husband has yet to face any criminal penalties. The school district’s superintendent continues to preside over the very high school where this couple allegedly groomed underage minors and led them into inappropriate situations. The victims are said to have been lured into sexual situations by being offered drugs and alcohol.
Teachers and their administrators are pillars of the community who are supposed to educate students and help them succeed in life. Students look to them for guidance and support outside of their homes. When minors are groomed toward destructive adult behavior, by sinister teachers who prey on their innocence, it not only harms the children involved, but also the community. Trust in public schools is already down, cases like this do the education system no favors and those who allow due process to be stifled and suppressed are losing support for their role in brushing off child sexual abuse.