Student safety is Berkeley school district’s priority

COMMUNITY AFFAIRS: Students should not have to choose between an education and their safety

Illustration of stressed student in classroom
Lily Callender/Staff

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A major part of a school’s responsibility is to ensure the safety of all of its students. So when a lawsuit alleges that multiple Berkeley High School administrators were negligent in reporting a sexual assault, it’s time for the Berkeley Unified School District to re-evaluate its priorities and policies.

In light of the lawsuit, hundreds of BHS students staged a walkout to demonstrate their support for sexual assault victims and to call upon BUSD to create a healthier learning environment. Their demands included the appointment of an expert Title IX compliance officer, more districtwide training for sexual harm and early education on consent beginning in the sixth grade. All of these demands are necessary and could have easily been fulfilled, which begs the question of why they weren’t implemented in the first place. After all, any inaction only serves to normalize toxic “rape culture.”

Although BHS students were able to organize an incredible protest and mobilize their peers to voice support for sexual assault victims, they should not have had to deal with the tremendous task of educating the school district. For years, BHS students have been alleging that school administrators harbor toxic negligence that enables sexual assault. The recent protest reveals that student frustrations with administration policies have reached a peak. This protest stems from an institutional issue with prioritizing a safe educational atmosphere and, as evidenced in student testimonies, doesn’t amount to an isolated incident.?

BHS seems to have had issues with reporting sexual assaults dating back to 2015. The federal Office for Civil Rights launched an investigation in 2015 into whether the school district failed to fully comply with Title IX policies. Then, in 2016, a student sued the school district for negligence, alleging that the school failed to properly handle her sexual assault case. It seems that sexual misconduct has gone largely unchecked at BHS, despite numerous allegations spanning several years. As history keeps repeating itself, it’s unbelievable that no changes have been successfully enacted.?

A high school education should not come at the cost of a student’s safety in the classroom. While it’s commendable that BHS students were able to mobilize such a large protest for this cause, it’s disappointing that students still have to publicly hold administrators accountable for their failures. This should not be the only course of action for students to adequately implement resources. It is the school district’s responsibility to make sure schools are safe for students and not a place for sexual misconduct.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2020 opinion editor, Simmy Khetpal.