Berkeley school board passes interim sexual harassment policy Wednesday

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At a meeting Wednesday, the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education passed an interim sexual harassment policy identical to the California School Board Association’s policy.

According to documents from a board meeting in March, the district’s sexual harassment advisory committee, the policy subcommittee and the school district’s legal counsel have been working on a new sexual harassment policy for more than a year. The drafted policy was being developed to comply with federal Title IX regulations and uniform complaint procedures, and it would provide “trauma-informed support” for complainants.

The interim policy stipulates that complaints regarding sexual harassment will be investigated in accordance with the law and that the district superintendent will designate appropriate actions to reinforce the policy and ensure that students receive age-appropriate information about sexual harassment.

In January, the federal Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, opened an investigation to address complaints from Berkeley High School students and parents who alleged that the school district failed to respond adequately to sexual assault and harassment.

The OCR recommended holding off on revising the district’s broader sexual harassment policy until the investigation concluded, as the OCR could then suggest further changes. Hence, the school district adopted the sexual harassment policy from the California School Boards Association in the interim.

“Although we paused the whole process while we wait for the (investigation’s) outcome, we are not pausing our work,” said Judy Appel, president of the board. “The whole board is committed to this mission.”

According to Appel, the district is also working on a sexual harassment prevention training program for Berkeley High seniors to ensure that students are prepared for after graduation.

“(We) are committed to creating a safe environment for all of our students — not just (for) the seniors but for our whole school community,” Appel said.

Heidi Goldstein, a parent who filed the Title IX complaint in December that began the investigation and who is also a member of the sexual harassment advisory committee, said that it was important that the process for reporting sexual harassment incidents be clear and accessible and that the interim policy fails to do this.

“It is a very bare-bones, skeletal policy (and) OK for a school just starting out,” she said. “It lacks articulation about some basic things.”

Rebecca Levenson, a parent adviser to BHS Stop Harassing — a Berkeley High student group protesting sexual harassment — said evidence-based education should have been included in the interim policy.

“Educators teach students about sexual harassment,” Levenson said. “But what does this do to inform beliefs of what is consent and what are elements of a healthy relationship?”

According to the documents, after the OCR investigation concludes, the district will return to drafting a more comprehensive policy and incorporating the agency’s recommendations.

“In the short run, we passed a policy in accordance with current law,” Appel said. “All of those details will be hashed out in (the) long-term policy.”

Contact Emily Pedersen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @epedersendc.