The Berkeley School district says there were inaccuracies in an article by Anika Anand and Emily Hartley of California Watch which set out to uncover the cost to BUSD of a sexual harassment case at Berkeley High.

The California Watch article, which Berkeleyside published in full on July 25, said that over a period of about one year Berkeley officials had balked at disclosing how much they spent defending BHS counsellor Anthony Smith, and had failed to respond to most queries from reporters, including two Public Records Act (PRA) requests for information.

In a statement released on July 27, BUSD Deputy Superintendent Javetta Cleveland said BUSD did not respond to two PRA requests initially because the district was involved in ongoing litigation and was therefore not legally obliged to disclose any information. Once the lawsuit was settled, Cleveland said, a lawyer representing BUSD spoke with the California Watch reporter covering the story and provided information. “It was the District’s understanding that counsel’s email satisfied the requirements of both Public Record Act requests,” the statement concludes.

Asked to comment on the BUSD release, California Watch reporter Anika Anand said: “As soon as California Watch receives documentation from the district that fulfills the public records requests, California Watch will publish a follow-up story.” [Update, 2:35pm: California Watch adds that their “story was completely accurate.”]

The disagreement centers on coverage of an alleged harassment case at Berkeley High, a story Berkeleyside broke in September 2010. A girl identified in court records as Lilah R. claimed that Berkeley High counselor Anthony Smith had sexually harassed her for much of her junior year, when she was 16, and that the school ignored her complaints. Superintendent William Huyett said Smith’s behavior was “inappropriate and unprofessional” – but not sexual harassment. The girl sued the district when Smith was not removed from the campus. Smith has denied any wrongdoing.

Here is the full release from BUSD:

From Javetta Cleveland, BUSD Deputy Superintendent:

In an article published by ‘California Watch’ on Wednesday, July 25, 2012, entitled “Costs unknown for Berkeley High School harassment case”, there were some statements which were not accurate.

The Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) would like a set the record straight. First, while two Public Record Act requests were sent directly to the District in September and November 2011, at that time, the District was involved in on-going litigation in the subject lawsuit. Pursuant to California Government Code Section 6254(b), “Records pertaining to pending litigation to which the public agency is a party” do not need to be disclosed “until the pending litigation or claim has been finally adjudicated or otherwise settled.” The settlement was not finalized until June 2012.

Second, BUSD did, in fact, have direct communications with the reporter, Anika Anand. After the lawsuit resolved in its entirety, the District’s counsel, James Marzan of Edrington, Schirmer & Murphy, was contacted by Ms. Anand, and was informed for the first time that Public Record Act requests had been sent to the District which were outstanding. Mr. Marzan asked Ms. Anand to forward the requests directly to him. Upon receipt, Mr. Marzan, in conjunction with the District, took immediate action and obtained the information requested. That information was e-mailed to Ms. Anand and was included in Wednesday’s article. It was the District’s understanding that counsel’s e-mail satisfied the requirements of both Public Record Act requests.

Costs unknown for Berkeley High School harassment case [07.25.12]
Berkeley High counselor given seven day suspension [05.07.12]
Berkeley School district settles sexual harassment case [01.12.12]
Berkeley High harassment case close to settling [12.08.11]
Berkeley High harassment case heading to settlement [07.21.11]
BHS sexual harassment case taken to federal court [04.22.11]
Government to assess Berkeley High harassment case [12.07.10]
BHS harassment case settles, leaves open questions [10.29.10]
BUSD decision appealed in BHS harassment case [09.21.10]
Restraining order served on Berkeley High counselor [09.16.10]

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...