Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee Peggy Scott speaks to the School Board during public comment.
Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee member Peggy Scott speaks to the School Board during public comment on Wednesday April 8, 2015. Photo: Seung Y. Lee

Amid a federal investigation on whether Berkeley High School inadequately responded to sexual harassment claims, the Berkeley School Board voted unanimously Wednesday to pass a new, interim sexual harassment policy.

While passing the sexual harassment policy, and its accompanying administrative regulation, the Board placed conditions on certain points of concern raised by parents and students, such as revisiting the policy in no later than a year, and expediting the hiring process of a permanent Title IX Coordinator.

The interim policy, the first update to BUSD’s sexual harassment policy since 2006, is a model policy created by the California School Boards Association, or CSBA. The policy outlines how sexual harassment complaints should be handled by the district and what disciplinary actions offenders should receive.

While the Board has a 20-plus page alternative policy in the works from the BUSD Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee, it opted to adopt the four-page policy recommended by the CSBA for the time being at the recommendation of the federal Office of Civil Rights.

The OCR, which is a sub-agency of the Department of Education, has been investigating allegations brought forth by Heidi Goldstein, a parent of BHS students and member of the BUSD Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee.

Failure to adequately respond to sexual harassment claims is a federal offense under Title IX, which prohibits gender-based discrimination in any federally funded educational program.

After hearing the Policy Subcommittee was planning to bring forth SHAC’s draft to the Board for a first reading in February, OCR staff recommended BUSD hold off revisions to the policy until the investigation is over, according to interim Title IX coordinator Susan Craig.

Following the OCR’s recommendation, the Policy Subcommittee moved forward with CSBA’s policy instead.

“OCR recommends to the District that if it must get this to the board this month, that this be an interim policy and that the District makes it known that the policy may need to be amended/changed after the investigation,” said an OCR investigator.

During public comments in front of a crowd of more than 50 people on Wednesday, parents and students from the BHS Stop Harassing group said the policy does not address what constitute the duties of a Title IX Coordinator, and what exactly evidence-based training to students and faculty will entail.

“This new policy that the board is now looking at is skeletal and does not give me or my fellow students hope that we will feel safe around campus,” said BHS senior Alice Rossmann. “I hope you will not continue the trend of just checking the box when it comes to sexual harassment and instead fulfill your goal in passing a comprehensive policy.”

Berkeley High School Bryn Lewin-Offel voices a student's perspective regarding the sexual harasmment policy to the school board. Photo: Seung Y. Lee
Berkeley High School student Bryn Lewin-Offel voices a student’s perspective regarding sexual harassment policies to the Berkeley School Board on Wednesday April 8, 2015. Photo: Seung Y. Lee
Berkeley High School student Bryn Lewin-Offel voices a student’s perspective regarding sexual harassment policies to the Berkeley School Board on Wednesday April 8, 2015. Photo: Seung Y. Lee

SHAC member Peggy Scott raised four steps for the Board to consider during her public comment: budgeting and hiring a Title IX Coordinator as soon as possible; providing sexual harassment training to the current senior class before their graduation; scheduling training for staff prior to the start of the next school year; and budgeting and choosing a training program for all high-school students through the next school year.

Prior to the meeting, Goldstein and fellow SHAC member Rebecca Levenson wrote a letter to the Board, echoing Scott’s points and asking the Board to reconsider adopting CSBA’s policy.

“The Board’s policy decisions guide what the staff are required to do,” the letter reads. “Bypassing the requirement for diligence in researching the issues and omitting key elements from the sexual harassment policy, such as evidence-based training, even on an interim basis, is wrong.”

Superintendent Donald Evans stated that he wanted the new Title IX Coordinator to join BUSD by July 1. Following recommendations from Craig by the next week, BUSD planned to finalize the job descriptions and salary before opening the application as a classified position.

While all the public comments on the issue were against the CSBA policy, the Board showed little hesitation in passing the policy. Board president Judy Appel asked for the policy to be on the agenda a year from now, in case the OCR investigation is finished within the next year and the Board forgets to revisit the policy.

“The goal is to go back to the very forward proposal that we were working on the past year and making it even better,” Appel said. “My hope was that it doesn’t stop us, but rather liberates us into implementing training and professional development.”

Despite the assurances from the Board, Goldstein worried that the Board in the future will postpone revising the policy and inadvertently make the CSBA policy a permanent one.

“I have a real concern that the interim may turn into permanent,” Goldstein said. “When you are a busy board member with their schedules, how many times are you going to revisit the same policy?”

Feds launch civil-rights investigation in Berkeley School District’s response to sexual harassment claims (02.10.15)
Students target sexual harassment at Berkeley High (11.21.14)
Op-ed: Sexual harassment at Berkeley High must stop (11.17.14)
Berkeley high sexual 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 (9.21.10)
Restraining order served on Berkeley High counselor (9.16.10)

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