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New Sexual Assault Policy Demanded at School Board Meeting

On Wednesday, February 19, Berkeley High School (BHS) students and staff spoke out about systemic rape culture at a Berkeley School Board meeting. Student organizers of the walkout, which took place the week before, came prepared to call the board to action with seven demands. Students spoke in succession, outlining the changes they wanted the board to implement. These demands included both long-term and short-term changes, all of which aimed to prevent and educate about sexual violence or to better respond to cases of assault. 

Angela Coppola, a teacher at BHS for nine years, spoke in order to inform attendees on the severe flaws of teacher training. “This year, we finally received sexual harassment training in the form of a one size fits all state employee of California video which exclusively dealt with sexual harassment in an office environment,” explained Coppola. “That isn’t authentic to my work environment, and it does not deal with the complexity of what goes on at a school,” she said. 

Students also demanded that BHS hire a full time Title IX coordinator as well as a district-wide officer whose jobs would be to work towards ending rape culture in schools. Speakers called for two restorative justice officers available to give unrestricted counseling for survivors during school hours. “Students deserve a space to heal on campus, whether that’s counselors, restorative justice staff, or excused mental health days,” said Penina Biddle-Gottesman, a senior at BHS. 

“After I reported my rape, the school failed to implement a safety plan until the end of the week,” said Eve Worley, a junior at BHS. “I had to see my rapist every day at school. With proper education of administration and staff, this could have been prevented,” she added. To stop cases like Worley’s from occurring, students demanded that the class schedule of the reported perpetrator be changed within one school day so as to not be in the same classroom as the survivor. 

Survivors would also receive a week of excused absences after the assault and a temporary 504 education plan to lessen the impact of assault on their education. “I went from a 4.0 unweighted GPA to failing many of my classes because of missing so many days due to trauma,” said Cameron Amianda, a junior at BHS. Students also called for harsher consequences: if found guilty by the school, perpetrators must be suspended from all school sanctioned events. 

The last focus of the demands was on education. Students called for Pre-K through twelfth grade education on consent in all classrooms as well as the formation of the Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee.

Students emphasized that a major target of consent education must be on male sports teams. Eliza Fosket-Hydes, a junior at BHS, spoke about how people tend to glorify popular male athletes and to overlook their sexual misconduct. As a member of the water polo team since freshman year, Fosket-Hydes asked that all male participants or coaches of sports teams participate in Coaching Boys into Men training, which would teach boys about consent and the impact of rape culture. Members of the board said that they heard and understood the demands and would try to bring about change as fast as they could. “We want you to know that change is not months away: it is only days and weeks away,” said Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Brent Stephens. “We have heard you with an open heart and an open mind, and we do not feel defensive,” he assured the audience. The school board’s student representative Estella Hemp, who was not present at the meeting, also wrote a note expressing her thoughts. “If I’ve learned anything in the past twelve years, it is that the Berkeley High community is a force,” said Hemp about her optimism for change and gratitude to belong to such a persistent student body.

Abigail Sanchez, a senior at BHS, said, “I am so proud to have a school board that acknowledges the pain and suffering that is happening on campus.” Sanchez is hopeful that the board will increase the meager budget allotted to fighting rape culture, which she believes is a major reason why administration has allowed sexual assault cases to be ignored. However, she is prepared to fight harder if necessary. “If the school board isn’t timely in its corrections of this terrible system, we will protest and have more sit-outs in order to show that we won’t be silent,” she said. 

Disclaimer: Cameron Amianda is an Entertainment editor for the Jacket and Estella Hemp is a photographer for the Jacket.

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