Berkeley school district board discusses policies on undocumented students, sex harassment

Simon Greenhill/Staff

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Berkeley Unified School District’s board unanimously approved a policy designed to improve students’ access to educational resources and protect them from detention or deportation at its regular meeting Wednesday night.

Prompted by concerns that the district’s undocumented students are more likely to be deported after President-elect Donald Trump takes office, board members instituted the policy to prohibit the district from gathering information about a student’s immigration status. The policy also requires that any request for documents or entry to campuses from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, or ICE, be directed to the district’s superintendent and board for review.

“I think the intent of our policy is pretty clear,” said Ty Alper, who was appointed board president at the meeting and helped draft the policy. “We’re going to resist the efforts of federal immigration authorities in any way that we know how.”

During his campaign, Trump pledged to pull federal funding from cities refusing to comply with ICE, although it’s unclear whether he will be able to follow through on his promise. At the very least, cutting federal funding would require approval from Congress — such a decision would likely be challenged in court by cities that Trump threatens.

Because the school district’s budget is separate from the city’s, it’s even less clear whether the policy could jeopardize the district’s funding. The district expects to receive more than $8 million in federal funding this school year, according to district spokesperson Charles Burress.

“We feel strongly enough about the policy that we would be prepared to deal with (a funding cut) if it arises,” Alper said. “These are really our fundamental values, and they’re not for sale.”

As a result of the board’s supermajority vote in favor of the policy, it will go into effect immediately instead of being revisited for final approval at the board’s January meeting. District employees and families can now be notified of the new policy prior to Trump’s inauguration Jan. 20.

The board also discussed training district staff on how to implement and uphold the policy. In addition, board members Beatriz Leyva-Cutler and Judy Appel, along with student board member Petra Silvey, will draft a resolution reaffirming the district’s support for immigrant and especially undocumented — students. The resolution will also likely include language supporting Muslim students and members of other minority groups potentially threatened by Trump’s policy proposals.

“We all understand the urgency of this policy and how important it is for us to have it,” Leyva-Cutler said during the meeting. “In this climate that we’re in, every day counts.”

The beginning of the meeting was marked by public comment from Berkeley High School students who spoke in support of the board’s new policy on undocumented students. A significant number of students, however, came to criticize the school’s administration for allegedly mishandling sexual harassment cases at BHS.

Aniya Williams, a BHS junior, alleged at the meeting that she was sexually harassed by another student, who she said emailed her from an anonymous account to make explicit comments about her body and sexual acts he wanted to perform on her.

“I feel like (sexual harassment) happens to all girls and even guys on our campus,” Williams said. “It’s our administration’s job to handle these cases seriously.”

A lawsuit filed Nov. 21 by another BHS student who was groped by one of her classmates, according to the suitmade similar claims against the school, alleging that administrators dismissed the student’s claims and caused the plaintiff so much distress that she missed more than a month of school.

About 40 people attended the public comment period to support both Williams and the board’s new policy. Many were members of BHS Stop Harassing —  a student group working to stop sexual harassment and violence on BHS’s campus and wore shirts reading “Stop blaming my body for your harassment.”

“When we hear things like these things that we heard tonight, we know that we have more work to do. And we will do that,” said Donald Evans, the district’s superintendent, during the meeting. “We need to go back, revisit, look at what we’re doing and make some changes so that we don’t hear any more of these stories.”

Contact Simon Greenhill at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @simondgreenhill.