At its Tuesday meeting, Berkeley City Council deferred action on a resolution to support Berkeley High School’s Stop Harassing campaign, led by a student group that has been petitioning for changes in the school district’s sexual harassment policies.
The agenda item, had it passed, would have urged the Berkeley Unified School District to set standards for preventing and handling sexual harassment cases and invest in education-based training. The proposal encouraged reports by Superintendent Donald Evans on the state of sexual harassment and violence in the schools.
However, the council voted to refer the item to the superintendent and the BUSD Board of Education, after Councilmembers Darryl Moore and Linda Maio said it would be inappropriate for the council to make a decision on an item that concerns the district without it going to the board.
“We’re in it for the long haul — it needs to change. It needs to be better,” said Heidi Goldstein, an adult adviser to Stop Harassing who spoke during public comment. “We were hoping for the council’s support but now we’ll continue with the school board.”
Berkeley High School has been under a Title IX investigation since January, after Goldstein filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, or OCR, alleging that the school’s handling of sexual harassment and assault cases violated federal law.
Leaders of the campaign, including Goldstein, allege that the district was not complying with the investigation by refusing to allow the OCR to perform interviews or surveys of the students and faculty. But, Judy Appel, BUSD board president, said the reason for these restrictions was to protect students’ privacy and follow parental consent laws rather than to resist the investigation.
U.S. Department of Education spokesperson Jim Bradshaw said in an email that the investigation is still ongoing and the OCR could not provide any details. Goldstein said she hopes that the OCR includes recommendations that invest in evidence-based training programs.
Appel said the district has taken several steps over the past year in responding to students who have spoken out about their experiences with harassment, including those involved with Stop Harassing. She said all teachers have received sexual harassment training.
In December, the organization held a black-out day at the high school, in which students wore black T-shirts purchased through a GoFundMe page. The campaign to change the culture of sexual harassment came in reaction to an administrator’s comments that students felt implied that they should expect to be harassed if they dressed a certain way.
In June, Stop Harassing was awarded the 2015 Champion of Justice Award by Equal Rights Advocates, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that works to promote economic and educational equality for women, for their efforts in creating a safe space for women in schools.