School district must aim to be more transparent

CITY ISSUES: Berkeley Unified School District should be more open to public inquiries from students and parents.

Willow Yang/Senior Staff

If the Berkeley Unified School District is a black box — opaque, unwilling to acknowledge problems and unyielding to parents’ concerns — then the rumors and allegations against the district are Schrodinger’s cat.

For much of the current school year, BUSD has been at the center of lawsuits, the most recent of which alleges that the district condoned racial discrimination. The suit joins a growing list of reasons for parents and students to raise concerns.

Despite its flagging public image, however, BUSD has evaded transparency when controversy strikes.

As rumors swirled about Sam Pasarow — then-principal of Berkeley High School — who was placed on paid leave in December, BUSD did not give parents relief in the form of a direct answer. When Pasarow resigned in February, a BUSD press release did not disclose the reason.

During school district Board of Education meetings on weekday nights, Berkeley High parents showed up, hoping to get to the bottom of the disruption at their children’s school. When they asked questions about Pasarow, the board did not offer an explanation. Fairly consistently, the board will accept a comment — or, rather, the fact that one was made — but will not expand upon it, even if the concern is as pressing as the fate of a principal.

The Daily Californian, on several occasions, requested emailed records of Pasarow’s leave of absence under the California Public Records Act, but the emails supplied by the school district were insufficient to explain his leave. BUSD cited disclosure exemptions under the act, including privacy protections.

Additionally, after a Berkeley High student sued the school for allegedly mishandling her sexual assault case, the school did not make a satisfactory announcement about the lawsuit.

If the school district will not adhere to parents’ simple requests for clarification or provide transparency — through the revelation of public records or even a paltry schoolwide email — then BUSD must create a separate forum where students and parents can talk openly about these mysterious events and receive straightforward responses from the administration.

At the very least, BUSD must justify its secrecy. Instead, BUSD has allowed rumors to proliferate to the point where members of the PTA have reached out to Daily Cal reporters and asked them to verify rumors.

Berkeley High School has an impressive history of social activism and has supported its students’ right to express themselves when they observe injustices. Sadly, the school and its district have now created distance and isolation from public criticism.

If the district wishes to present itself as a black box — concealing information about allegations of sexual assault, racial discrimination and faculty misconduct — then it must accept that the community will assume the worst.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

Tags No tags yet