On November 28, 2018, members of Berkeley High School (BHS) Stop Harassing addressed claims of sexual harassment at Cragmont Elementary School in Berkeley at a school board meeting. The group’s aim is to stop harassment and rape culture at BHS.
The group presented in light of sexual harassment that occurred at Cragmont Elementary School last year. One of the girls who was harassed, Stella, whose last name has been removed for privacy reasons, had reported the case to teachers and the principal at Cragmont which prompted further investigation into the case. The investigation found that the boy who had harassed Stella had been placed into the wrong classroom environment, as he was meant to be in a classroom for students with learning disabilities.
Despite evidence and witnesses having been present during the harassment, the school board ruled that Stella had been “bullied on the basis of her perceived gender identity,” not sexually harassed, according to Stella’s mother. In response, Stella’s parents filed an appeal to the California Department of Education, which, upon review of the case, mandated a Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) staff training about sexual harassment which would provide teachers with information about how to create a safer environment for their students.
Stella’s mom attended the teacher training sessions and found that they inadequately addressed the problem of sexual harassment and assault in the classroom. Besides numerous logistical issues, such as individuals leaving the building and using their phones, Stella’s mom believed the sessions focused primarily on the linkage between trauma and student performance, not on what teachers should do to better support their students. There was also no makeup day provided for teachers that could not make it to the session, and many, including BHS Stop Harassing, felt a comprehensive assessment should have been provided at the end of the session to test the teachers retention of what they had learned. “The trainings were … not effective in addressing how teachers can handle and prevent similar situations in their classrooms,” said Minh Khai Spencer, a member of BHS Stop Harassing.
BHS Stop Harassing’s presentation provided a follow up to these complaints as the group expressed solidarity with Stella. Multiple student speakers, as well as teachers and parents, came to discuss their feelings about BUSD’s response to the case. “Going forward, the school board should implement more required training that focuses specifically on sexual harassment and how to handle it in a school setting,” said Cela Parker, another member of BHS Stop Harassing.
Adult speakers called on the district to make a more formal, heartfelt apology to Stella about what transpired in the school year of 2017-18. “The only member to apologize to the survivors was Arvin Hariri, the student member on the board,” Spencer said. Parker added that “the school board never apologized to the victims of the harassment cases and because of that, other students may be reluctant to come forward with their own stories.”
Heidi Goldstein, a member of the BUSD Harassment Advisory Committee, called on the school board to consider Title IX in their decision making about how to further proceed, since Title IX requires schools to address cases of sexual harassment thoroughly, fairly, and regardless of whether the incident is reported to the police.
Goldstein further requested the board’s support during the period of “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” a time during which proposed regulation changes for the implementation of Title IX in schools is reviewed. “Given the comments made by the student speakers earlier tonight, you know that Title IX is important to them,” said Goldstein.
In the future, BHS Stop Harassing hopes the school board will not only apologize more formally to the victims, but also address the matter in a more public way to demonstrate that sexual misconduct is not tolerated in BUSD.