Berkeley school board considers adopting interim sexual harassment policy

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Berkeley’s school board discussed Wednesday evening the adoption of a new sexual harassment policy for the district — one that, although recommended by the California School Boards Association, has garnered opposition from students and parents.

The policy, created by the California School Boards Association, or CSBA, lays out guidelines for the district superintendent on how to educate students about sexual harassment issues and also delineates disciplinary actions to be taken by schools against sexual harassment offenders.

Several students from a student group called Berkeley High School Stop Harassing spoke at the Wednesday meeting and called the CSBA policy “empty” and “skeletal.”

Berkeley Unified School District schools have received allegations of a number of sexual harassment incidents in the past year, as well as complaints that such incidents were not addressed adequately.

Heidi Goldstein said her daughter was sexually harassed at school, after which Goldstein filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, or OCR. The district is alleged to have violated Title IX, a law prohibiting sex discrimination under federally funded education programs. The civil rights office is now investigating the district.

“It wasn’t even (that) they weren’t moving fast enough — they weren’t moving at all,” Goldstein said. “It took a lot of time and effort on my part and a lot of chasing people to make changes.”

Goldstein sits on the district’s sexual harassment advisory committee, which she said is working on a new policy to address sexual harassment in the district. But several board members indicated at the meeting that they would rather wait to consider that policy until the OCR investigation finishes.

Director of student services and interim Title IX coordinator Susan Craig said she recognized the committee’s work but is still in favor of adopting the CSBA model.

“We are not throwing out that comprehensive policy that (the committee) has been working on,” she said. “It still needs more work, but we don’t want to try to guess … (and) put a lot of energy into it, only to have OCR say, ‘You have to change this, you have to change that.’ ”

Although it is not as detailed, Craig said, she sees the CSBA model as an improvement from the current policy, which was last revised in 2006.

“The interim policy that we’re looking at is better than what we have (currently),” she said. “If I thought it would be harmful, I wouldn’t be recommending it to the board.”

Rebecca Levenson, an adviser to BHS Stop Harassing, said the policy is missing two critical components: evidence-based training requirements and a hearing for a new Title IX coordinator.

The current Title IX coordinator position is assigned in conjunction with the position of director of student services, meaning that one person fills both positions. A hearing could facilitate discussion as to the role of the Title IX coordinator’s responsibilities, Levenson said.

The board will conduct a second reading of the state policy at its next meeting April 8, after which it may vote on whether to officially adopt the policy or not.

Contact Tahmina Achekzai at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tahminachekzai.