School district emphasizes ongoing efforts to address sexual harassment, bullying

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In a letter sent to Berkeley Unified School District middle and high school families Wednesday, BUSD and Berkeley High School officials announced increased efforts to address and prevent sexual harassment, bullying and other forms of discrimination in the district.

BUSD superintendent Donald Evans, school board president Ty Alper and BHS principal Erin Schweng signed the letter, which informs families about new actions that BUSD and BHS have taken in recent months in addition to existing efforts to address sexual harassment and bullying. The letter mentions the appointment of not only Dana Clark as the new Title IX coordinator and compliance officer, but also a restorative justice expert, in addition to ways of educating and training students at BHS to prevent harassment from taking place.

“We are committed to the work because we know that students cannot learn if they do not feel safe,” Alper said in an email. “And we have a legal and moral obligation to do whatever we can to ensure that they feel safe and are safe at school.”

In addition to previous efforts, the letter explains which new actions have been taken during the last few months. Clark started working as the new Title IX coordinator and compliance officer Wednesday, and she will coordinate BUSD’s efforts to prevent harassment as well as the responses to incidents that occur, the letter said.

“She will … help us improve our systems around our complaint process, and will help ensure that students who do come forward with complaints are heard and respected throughout the process,” Alper said.

BUSD has hired Nuri Nusrat, a restorative justice expert from Impact Justice — an organization that does research in restorative criminal justice approaches — who “specializes in working with victims of sexual harm” and will work at BHS part-time, the letter said.

According to Alper, the restorative justice experts “work with our students to help acknowledge, address, and repair harm.”

“Our restorative justice work is victim-focused and aims to repair the harm caused,” Alper said. “In some cases, not necessarily all, this is a much more productive way of addressing incidents of sexual harassment. We have been pleased so far at the progress we have made in this area, as our restorative justice interventions have been very well received.”

BHS implemented an updated policy to address sexual assault in 2015, which planned for a revamped training program and included instructions on what steps to take against sexual harassment offenders.

Despite those efforts, last November, a BHS student filed a lawsuit against BUSD for allegedly failing to handle her sexual assault case properly in 2015. The student claimed that she had been persistently harassed and stalked by a fellow student and that a Berkeley police officer who was responsible for the case failed to protect her from further attacks.

This year, ninth-grade students were educated about consent and harassment in an assembly, which was supported by student leaders from BHS Stop Harassing — a student-run organization that aims to change the culture around sexual harassment and violence at BHS. On Feb. 8, 32 BHS students participated in the Green Dot Upstander training — a violence prevention program — and another group is expected to take the training by the end of April, the letter said.

Charlotte Kosche covers schools and communities. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @CharlotteKosche.