Bill urges California high school sex education classes to teach harassment prevention

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On Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill asking the Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission to consider requiring that sexual harassment prevention be taught in California public schools.

The bill states what pertinent sexual assault information must be included in sex education classes and encourages teachers to adhere to a consistent message when teaching sexual violence prevention by requiring teachers to refer to a developed framework in the course of their instruction.

Berkeley High School Stop Harassing, a Berkeley High student group, has said it supports the bill. The group’s adult leader, Berkeley High parent Heidi Goldstein, filed a Title IX complaint against the high school in December alleging the school violated federal law when handling sexual harassment cases.

Goldstein said consistency is vital when it comes to sexual violence education because many students and teachers are uncertain about the definition of harassment. She added that people do not necessarily know how to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

“Students must be taught to identify when behavior is intrusive to them,” Goldstein said.

Pending the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights’ conclusion in the Title IX case, the high school follows an interim policy to report sexual harassment. Goldstein said the interim policy “has a lot of gaps (and) misses articulation on a lot of points.”

The bill’s aim is to increase the education on and therefore the awareness of sexual harassment in high schools. According to Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Mark Coplan, the district had originally begun drafting a new policy related to sexual harassment but was advised by Office for Civil Rights investigators to postpone implementing major changes until after the conclusion of the Title IX investigation.

“I hope the biggest change in the culture actually comes with the students. Students get a better understanding (when) talking with each other about consent, about assault,” Goldstein said. “If students make that jump, there will be many fewer incidents.”

Berkeley High has been the focus of several sexual harassment claims, including an online page that publicly commented on female students and their actions. In addition, there were claims of inappropriate conduct by school faculty, according to Goldstein.

After these incidents were brought to the school district’s attention, an interim Title IX coordinator was appointed, who is responsible for educating both students and teachers throughout the school district on their lawful rights. The first coordinator the school board elected was unaware she had been given the position and was revealed to have a conflict of interest.

The commission is set to revise the health framework after the beginning of next year. The health framework is a guideline for health education in California public schools and includes a suggested curriculum for sex education classes, which could include required education on sexual assault and violence, depending on the commission’s decision.

Contact Anderson Lanham at [email protected].

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Berkeley Unified School District was waiting on the Office of Civil Rights’ investigation results before drafting a new sexual harassment policy. In fact, district spokesperson Mark Coplan said the district had already started drafting a new policy but was advised by investigators to postpone major changes until after the investigation was complete.