Content warning: sexual violence
A former Berkeley Unified School District student has filed a civil lawsuit against the district and a former teacher, alleging sexual abuse she endured at the former REALM Charter School, as first reported by Berkeleyside.
The former student, named as “Jane Doe” in the complaint, alleged that her former eighth-grade math teacher sexually abused her from 2015-16 when she was 13 years old. According to the complaint, Doe was raped and coerced by the teacher to perform oral sex on an almost daily basis, leading to a pregnancy that ended in a miscarriage in 2016.
BUSD revoked REALM’s charter in 2019 due to a lack of financial viability; however, the school district had operated and maintained the school since 2011. Trish McDermott, a spokesperson for BUSD, declined to comment on the civil suit, noting that the school district does not comment on lawsuits.
“It is my understanding that there was a looseness of enforcement of appropriate standards of behavior,” alleged John Winer, senior partner of the plaintiff’s representing firm Winer, Burritt & Scott, LLP. “Teachers were able to get away with things they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to with a structured environment.”
The civil complaint, filed Aug. 23, detailed allegations of daily abuse by a single teacher in a copy room across from the teacher’s classroom. A criminal investigation into the teacher was opened after a report was made to Child Protective Services; however, the case was dismissed in October 2019.
While the criminal investigation did not lead to any charges for the alleged abuser, Winer noted that the civil suit provides an opportunity to establish that there may have been inadequate protections based on a preponderance of the evidence.
Winer’s firm also represented the accusers of former Berkeley High School chemistry teacher Matthew Bissell after a civil suit was file against him in November 2021 for sexual misconduct and harassment of students. Bissell was allowed to resign from the school district in 2015 but has since had his teaching license revoked.
While Winer said his firm represents seven survivors of Bissell’s alleged abuse, more than 10 former students have come out with allegations against Bissell from when they were students at Berkeley High.
“I do believe that it is very clear that BUSD has had a pattern over the years of not taking allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment seriously enough,” Winer alleged.