Berkeley school district responds to claims in lawsuit

Sunny Shen/Staff

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Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, claimed its staff took appropriate actions to report a case of sexual assault amid allegations that they did not do so correctly.

On Jan. 31, a student filed a lawsuit alleging that a counselor failed to report her case of sexual assault to the proper authorities. The district, however, claimed its educators reported the alleged sexual assault to the Berkeley Police Department.

“Due to what the district felt was hasty reporting of this lawsuit that included a decision to name district staff without verifying a significant allegation — that district staff did not report the incident to the Berkeley Police Department —  the district chose to strongly assert that our educators followed district policy,” said BUSD spokesperson Trish McDermott in an email.

The student’s lawyer, Jayme Walker, alleged a counselor, with the obligations of a mandated reporter, did not report the case properly. Walker also alleged the counselor went to the assistant principal when she should have reported the incident to BPD.

The report eventually reached BPD through the assistant principal, according to Walker, who added that the mandated reporting process was “technically” incorrect, but it “met the spirit of what they were supposed to do.”

BPD spokesperson Officer Byron White confirmed the case was reported to BPD by a mandated reporter May 14, 2019.

Mandated reporters are required to report known or suspected incidents of child abuse to appropriate agencies within 36 hours of receiving the information, according to the BUSD website.

As controversy surrounding the allegations heightens, Berkeley High School students are increasing pressure on the district to better educate students and prioritize addressing sexual violence. In addition to staging protests Feb. 10 and 11, students attended BUSD’s regularly scheduled Feb. 19 meeting.

In a message sent to the BUSD community Feb. 21, district superintendent Brent Stephens commented on the lawsuit and addressed current efforts being made to identify and allocate resources.

“I would like … to offer a comment about … a claim in the lawsuit that Berkeley High School staff failed to properly report an alleged sexual assault to the authorities,” Stephens alleged in the message. “This allegation made against these dedicated educators with strong professional histories is not true.”

Walker said, however, the heart of the case is about negligent supervision and questioned why the mandated reporter aspect of the case, which is “not a claim in the lawsuit,” is receiving so much media attention.

“They didn’t put into place the appropriate safeguards and safety plans,” Walker alleged. “They did not take it seriously enough that she then faced further harassment by this kid at school. That’s the case.”

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