Berkeley school district responds to alleged mishandling of Title IX case

Yijian Shan/Staff

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The Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, came under fire last year from community members and eventually the California Department of Education, or CDE, for failing to properly handle a Title IX violation in a district elementary school, as first reported by Berkeleyside.

According to Berkeleyside, BUSD initially classified the incident — which took place in a fifth-grade classroom at Cragmont Elementary School — as bullying, not sexual harassment. The parent of the student who was the target of the harassment, however, brought her complaint to BUSD and was not satisfied with the district’s decision, so she appealed to the CDE.

The state found that the claims of a Title IX violation were substantiated, and in the process of making that determination, called out BUSD for the way they had handled the situation. The school district’s findings for the case showed that the harassment was severe, discriminated on the basis of gender and created an unsafe learning environment for the student targeted, yet BUSD still determined that the complaint could not be substantiated, Berkeleyside reported.

BUSD was also questioned for referencing investigative interviews conducted by Dana Clark, the district’s former Title IX coordinator and compliance officer, and for not providing evidence to prove that those interviews had taken place, according to Berkeleyside. Since then, BUSD has hired a new coordinator, Chelsea Yogerst.

Ty Alper, director of the BUSD Board of Education, said BUSD took a number of actions in the aftermath of the CDE report in response to “the harms caused by members of our school communities.”

“The District implemented mandatory training for staff, peer-to-peer workshops for students, as well as additional Title IX training,” Alper said in an email. “We continue to implement the highly successful Green Dot training at Berkeley High.”

Green Dot is a program designed for teaching and normalizing sexual harassment prevention, from a kindergarten to a communitywide level.

The discrimination case has been mostly resolved by this point. There are still concerns, however, in the district and community regarding Title IX cases and how they are handled. According to Alper, the district also took the “unusual step” of submitting a letter to the U.S. Department of Education, “urging the Department to reconsider some of its proposed rule changes that would limit the ability of public school districts to protect students from sexual harm.” It was one of the only districts to do so.

BUSD’s action was in response to proposed Title IX changes brought forward and later finalized by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, which would have major implications for the way sexual harassment cases are handled in schools. Based on those changes, BUSD felt it necessary to speak up, according to Alper.

“We hope that our voice influences policymakers, and we also wanted to make sure our community knew that we were committed to creating a safe learning environment for all of our students,” Alper said in the email.

Contact Marlena Tavernier-Fine at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @MarlenaTF_DC ‏.