Dear BUSD Community,
At this week’s meeting of the BUSD Board of Education, an impressive number of students from Berkeley High School came to speak to the Board and me about their experiences of sexual harassment and assault, and to ask that the District provide additional resources and programs to prevent sexual harm and support students who are victims of sexual harm.
The Board and I listened carefully to these courageous students, and to the thoughtful proposals that have been brought forward by students, parents and educators over the past two weeks. We have immediately started to plan for bringing additional resources to the school as quickly as possible – and are also ensuring that further resources are in place for the coming school year. I’ll be specific.
Right now, in the short-term, we have started to interview a number of local organizations that specialize in education, staff training, and counseling related to sexual harassment. That includes Coaching Boys Into Men, a program that students have specifically requested we implement. We’ll conduct this vetting process quickly, and will begin to introduce new partners to the BHS community in the coming weeks. We are looking at programs that offer additional consent education, organizations that specialize in responding to instances of sexual harm, programs for school athletes and coaches, and experts in Title IX reporting, investigation, and follow-up.
In the long-term, we will work to identify resources that will permit additional staff related to sexual harassment education, response, and support. Because the district is experiencing a budget deficit, we will need to make additional budget cuts or defer other program initiatives to provide for these expanded services, but we recognize the urgency of this need among our program priorities
These additional resources will be added to the supports that are currently in place at Berkeley High School. These supports include the recently created team of three intervention counselors; introductory consent education in the U9 class called Social Living, now in its second year; and the Green Dot program. Green Dot is led by Counselor Jasdeep Mahli and Dean of Students Kiernan Rok, and seeks to change peer culture by developing peer ambassadors who can influence their friends to disrupt harassing behaviors.
I encourage you to take a moment to read this brief article about Green Dot in the February 7 A+ News, the BUSD biweekly newsletter.
We will also review our current Board policy related to Sexual Harassment, particularly in light of the ideas brought to us by students. We don’t envision that only a revision of our policy will resolve the issues that students describe, but that policy can help to make any new changes more permanent and long-lasting.
I would like as well to offer a comment about the recently filed lawsuit related to a sexual assault and a claim in the lawsuit that Berkeley High School staff failed to properly report an alleged sexual assault to the authorities. This allegation made against these dedicated educators with strong professional histories is not true. While we cannot comment on the details of this pending litigation, we can strongly assert that our educators followed district policy and appropriately reported the allegation to the Berkeley Police Department. We take all allegations of sexual harm very seriously, and we are also committed to providing a thorough investigation and fair due process.
The safety of our students is our paramount concern. We believe our students’ concerns are serious and appropriate. We will continue to report on our progress as we bring additional resources to bear on these issues. We are grateful for the engagement of our students, parent/caregivers, educators and community partners as we work together to strengthen our programs, and support our students.
Brent Stephens, Ed.D