Berkeley High School implements sexual harassment prevention policy

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Berkeley High School has implemented an updated policy this school year to combat sexual assault.

Included in the new policy are a revamped training program and instructions on disciplinary steps to take against sexual harassment offenders — both of which students and parents have said could be improved.

The updated policy arrives in the midst of ongoing efforts to eradicate sexual and gender-based harassment by the Berkeley High School Stop Harassing — a student group formed in October 2014. The Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education approved and adopted the new policy to be implemented this year.

The changes, based on a model created by the California School Boards Association, represent the first time the district policy has been revised since 2006.

All of Berkeley High’s teaching staff received training Sept. 2 in gender-based harassment prevention from the organization Peace Over Violence and were given cards with instructions on how to respond should they witness sexual harassment or if a student reports it to them.

“The staff are much better prepared on how to prevent sexual harassment,” said Susan Craig, director of Student Services and interim Title IX coordinator at the high school. “I think the students are, too.”

The school district’s sexual harassment advisory committee previously spent more than a year developing policy changes it submitted to the school district, which were ultimately rejected, according to Emily Levenson, a Berkeley High student and member of Stop Harassing.

Students and advisers from Stop Harassing said they remained concerned that certain aspects of the policy were incomplete, such as the differences between filing complaints and making reports.

“Policies that don’t clarify what constitutes a report and what happens when you make one — they’re not very good policies,” said Heidi Goldstein, adult adviser for Stop Harassing. “The people who need the help don’t know what to expect. The people who are supposed to be implementing these policies, teachers, don’t have a lot of knowledge about what they’re supposed to be doing when someone comes to them.”

Maya Siskin-Lavine, a Berkeley High student and member of Stop Harassing, said the new policy also neglects to address other, lesser known forms of harassment. As an example, she said, some people generally do not know how to recognize how actions online can be considered a form of cyber sexual harassment.

A welcome assembly took place for Berkeley High students in September, during which sexual harassment and gender-identity harassment were addressed. A training day for harassment prevention and awareness for students is planned for October.

While the administration does not have a specific plan to assess the effectiveness of the policy, Berkeley High intends to gauge campus climate as part of its Healthy Kids survey in February. The school district is additionally seeking a new Title IX coordinator.

Contact Cassandra Vogel at [email protected].