An Orientation to Sexual Harassment Issues

for BHS, BIS & BTA Families

Part 1:  Title IX and BUSD Resources

 

As an entity that receives federal funding, the Berkeley Unified School District is bound by the requirements of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 which, amongst other things, requires that the District not discriminate in students’ access to its educational resources. That is to say, BUSD must ensure that all students at its schools, and those who participate in any of its programs, from academics, to athletics and clubs, are able to fully access all resources at school and can engage with these resources safely, without threat to their well-being, in an environment free of intimidation or hostility.

 

This non-discrimination requirement specifically applies to a number of “protected classes” including: race, religion, creed, ability, sex, gender expression and several others, that are explicitly identified under Title IX.  The law requires school districts to maintain a “Title IX Coordination” function to promptly address, investigate and adjudicate the reports and complaints of discrimination that are put forward for incidents that occur. (see webpage https://www.berkeleyschools.net/departments/titleix/ ).  It also requires school districts to ensure the safety and well-being of the students involved, while the incidents are under investigation, and to protect them from retaliation due to their report or complaint.  

 

Discrimination under Title IX can take many forms. One type that is especially prevalent is sexual harassment—unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature including sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, communications, gestures or actions, that create an unwelcome, offensive or hostile environment that interferes with a student’s ability to access educational resources at school or compromises their safety or well-being while engaging in school sponsored programs. Some examples of sexual harassment can include:

 

  • catcalls or unwelcome comments of a sexual nature from classmates, staff or teachers;

  • groping of body parts in the halls during passing periods;

  • unwelcome staring or touching, or demands for touching, such as hug;

  • a teacher, coach or person in authority who makes sweeping discriminatory comments about the capabilities of students based on sex or gender (such as,“girls can’t do math”);

  • a teacher, coach or person in authority who treats students unfairly based on their sex or gender (such as harsher grading or limiting opportunities);

 

Incidents of sexual harassment that occur at school or at school-sponsored events, outside of the classroom, such as at athletic events, the prom or rallies are also included under Title IX because it is the responsibility of BUSD to keep its students safe while they are involved in any school program. It is also BUSD’s responsibility under Title IX to address incidents that occur outside of school that cause physical harm (such as assault or rape) or reputational harm (such as internet shaming pictures or narratives) to a student who must then interact at school with those who caused the harm. The school is responsible to ensure student safety, well-being and protection from retaliation that can interfere with the student’s ability to readily access educational resources.

 

There are resources at BHS/BTA and at the BUSD district office that are designated to provide immediate help and support to students who believe they are experiencing discrimination, being sexually harassed or are experiencing retaliation for reporting or complaining:

 

 

Students (and their families) can learn more about BUSD policies and practices for addressing sexual harassment by consulting the 2020-2021 Parent Student Handbook https://www.berkeleyschools.net/handbook/  sections:

 

4.10 - Health & Safety - Sexual Harassment

5.4  -  Safe Schools & Violence Prevention

9.1 -   Non Discrimination Statement (Policy 5145.3)

9.11 - Summary of Sexual Harassment Policy

9.12 - Board Policy 5145.7 - Sexual Harassment Policy

9.13 - Board Policy 5131.2 - Anti-Bullying Policy

9.14 - Board Policy 5157 - Gender Equity & Access Policy

9.15 - Board Policy 1311 - Uniform Complaint Procedures Policy

10.3 - Uniform Complaint Procedures & Form

10.9 - Bullying Complaint Procedures & Form

 

 

Part 2:  A brief history of Sexual Harassment at BUSD

 

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, school districts have been required to designate a knowledgeable employee, without conflicting job duties (such as student discipline) to oversee the Title IX functions including oversight of the investigation, adjudication, and remedy for claims of discrimination based on sex. 

 

Documented since the early 1990s—and anecdotally even in the years prior to that decade—BUSD parents and stakeholders have mounted various initiatives to compel BUSD to meaningfully comply with Title IX requirements in the absence of institutional structures.  These actions typically arose from significantly mishandled incidents, such as student-on-student rape or assault, and, in some cases, staff-on-student transgressions. Where the outcome of the district’s actions denied the victim access to educational resources at school and/or rendered the victim subject to continued retaliation from harassers or assailants, many victims fled BUSD. Some student victims transferred to other school districts, retreated to independent study, dropped needed classes or enrolled instead in GED programs to avoid being subject to continued harassment. Some dropped out of school entirely. Some victims brought lawsuits against BUSD, as did some accused perpetrators.

 

In 2012, as a result of a settlement to the 2010 “Leila R” lawsuit filed against BUSD for staff-on-student harassment, the district was obliged to create a “community committee” to advise it on updates to its sexual harassment policies and practices. This committee has evolved into what is today known as the Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee (SHAC). In 2014, the student grassroots organization BHS Stop Harassing emerged to support victims and to advocate for changes to BUSD policies and practices around sexual harassment; and continues this work in 2021. In early 2015, a complaint was opened with the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for investigation into “persistent indifference to a climate of sexual harassment” at Berkeley High School. That complaint was closed in 2019 after years of BUSD obstruction to OCR investigators’ requests for access to site staff, students and records. In subsequent years, additional student organizing and clubs have been established to support survivors of sexual harm at BUSD. In February 2020, under the aegis of the student group ENOUGH! nearly one thousand BHS students marched to the District Office and occupied the premises, presenting to the Superintendent a list of demands for investment in staff, systems and improved BUSD Title IX processes to address incidents of sexual harm, and for funding of student and staff education programs about sexual harm and the BUSD policies and practices.

 

Since BUSD acknowledged, in December 2014, that it did not have a staff member assigned to Title IX responsibilities and processes, the District has cycled through 4 regular full time Title IX Coordinator employees and 5 interim (staff or contractor) Title IX Coordinators. On December 7, 2020, Stephen Jimenez-Robb was hired as the 5th regular full-time employee in the role, along with a full time Title IX Investigator, Mary Keating, who joined BUSD in November 2020. In response to the February 2020 student demands, the District recently established a Student SHAC at BHS and is in the process of developing a district-level SHAC.

 

The above was written by Heidi Goldstein

Heidi Goldstein is the parent of 2 BHS alumni.  She has served as a BUSD Classified Service (Merit System) Personnel Commissioner since 2016 and has served on the  BUSD Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee since June 2014.  She is also an adult advisor to the student grassroots organization BHS Stop Harassing.  She can be reached at hbgoldstein@earthlink.net

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