Berkeley High School students file Title IX complaint against school

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Update 2/4/15: This article has been updated to reflect further information from a member of the school district’s Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee and a Berkeley High student. 

The federal Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation in January to address complaints from Berkeley High School students, who allege that the school district committed a federal offense under Title IX by failing to respond adequately to sexual assault and harassment cases.

Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex under any educational programs that receives federal funding. Students may file a Title IX complaint with the U.S. Department of Education to initiate an investigation of their school’s policies. The Office for Civil Rights could not immediately be reached for comment.

Heidi Goldstein, a member of the school district’s Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee, filed the Title IX complaint Dec. 1 to the Office for Civil Rights after her daughter, then in the eighth grade, allegedly experienced sexual harassment at school.

Goldstein originally submitted a complaint to the school district but redirected it to the federal office after she felt the district “wasn’t moving fast enough to make changes.”

Berkeley school board president Judy Appel said various counseling programs were available in both the high school and middle schools. In addition, Title IX liaisons have been appointed to Berkeley High School to work with students who have made complaints.

Berkeley High principal Kristin Glenchur sent an email to students’ families Jan. 27 to inform them of the alleged issues of sexual harassment on campus. Attached to the email was a letter from Appel and superintendent Donald Evans and a copy of the high school’s current sexual harassment policies.

About a dozen students gave testimonials at a Dec. 10 school board policy subcommittee meeting about their alleged experiences with sexual assault and harassment on campus, according to Appel.

The school board was set to address a proposal to change sections of the high school’s sexual harassment policy at the end of last year, but the policy subcommittee’s advisory panel on sexual assault requested to delay submitting the proposal in order to review it, according to Appel. The school board will address the proposed policy changes by the end of February.

Susan Craig, director of student services, was appointed interim Title IX coordinator during the course of the investigation, according to the email sent by Appel and Evans. Craig could not be reached for comment.

According to Goldstein, the “ultimate remedy” if the district is found guilty would be to “take away federal funding.” She added, however, that “nobody wants that.”

Liana Thomason, a Berkeley High School senior and member of student activist group BHS Stop Harassing, said that since the incident, school administration has started a “more open dialogue” with parents. She hopes to begin a peer-to-peer educational program with students to foster more knowledge about sexual harassment on campus.

“I’m glad they’re recognizing (these issues),” Thomason said. “It’s a start, but it’s not enough.”

Adrienne Shih is the lead city reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @adrienneshih.