Berkeley school district administrators respond to student demands amid lawsuit

Kaleo Mark/Staff

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In the wake of student-organized protests at Berkeley High School, or BHS, Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, administrators are responding to student demands.

BHS students protested in support of victims of sexual assault and sexual violence Feb. 10 and Feb. 11, calling upon BUSD to provide better resources for schools in the district to address these issues.

“The District supports the request from Berkeley High School Students for additional services to prevent and address incidents of sexual harm in their lives,” said BUSD spokesperson Trish McDermott in an email.

Plans to provide students with additional counseling and educational services, as well as school staff with increased training, were explored at a meeting Feb. 18 between district leaders and school administrators, according to McDermott. The discussion also focused on developing a timeline and an implementation process for these changes.

BHS senior Penina Biddle-Gottesman said everything in her life feels “trivial” compared to the activism on the BHS campus and recognized the many “incredible” women at BHS. Biddle-Gottesman added that she feels supported by BHS Principal Erin Schweng.

“I read the list of demands … that the students presented to the Superintendent yesterday, and I just finished meeting with the student leaders who wrote them,” Schweng said in an email sent to BHS families. “Our team joins them in advocating for the entire list. Some of the items on the list (additional staffing, and training both at BHS and district-wide) will certainly need to be part of larger budget discussions this spring.”

BHS plans to bring onto its campus people who are “specifically skilled at working with students” to restore harm caused by sexual assault within the next few weeks, according to the email Schweng sent to BHS families. BHS will also be conducting classroom presentations on subjects ranging from consent to the process for reporting sexual harassment and assault.

BHS students plan to bring their demands to BUSD’s regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday. Biddle-Gottesman said one of her top priorities for the meeting is to hear the board members’ responses. One of the hurdles students face in having their demands met is the allocation of funds from BUSD, according to Biddle-Gottesman.

BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens is slated to discuss the school district’s overall budget constraints and address the “necessary” budget cuts to adjust for the additional cost of sexual education programs and sexual well-being services at the BUSD meeting, according to McDermott. Stephens will consider the requests of BHS students as “an important priority” throughout spring budgeting work, McDermott said in the email.

“I want to see BHS continually use resources to address these problems,” Biddle-Gottesman said. “The goal is that girls in 50 years will not have to constantly address sexual assault.”

Kaleo Mark is a schools and communities reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @kaleomark_dc.