Anthony Smith was accused last year of sexually harassing a student, according to court documents. Smith has denied the accusations. The school district, according to a July 12th letter to the student’s parents from Interim Director of Personnel Services Cliff Wong, found Smith “engaged in inappropriate and unprofessional behavior contrary to District policy.” The letter further stated that the district “will be taking appropriate personnel action” against Smith.
The accusations made by the student in April under penalty of perjury and cited in the court documents included:
- In April, Smith “spanked” her buttocks. Two weeks before that he said, “Maybe we can be in contact outside of school so I can share some feelings with you.”
- Smith asked the student what she wore to bed and responded, “Oh, you don’t sleep naked?”
- The student said, “He always hugged me goodbye and… would put his face in my chest and/or rub my back.”
- Smith came to the student’s classroom at different periods of the day, or had a student proctor send for her to visit his office.
According to Stephen Rosenbaum, the student’s lawyer, the district has never explained what disciplinary action has been taken. Smith is still working as a counselor at BHS. Because of this, Rosenbaum applied to the Alameda County Superior Court for a temporary restraining order on the basis of civil harassment, which was granted on September 2. It requires Smith to stay at least 100 yards away from the student. A hearing to make the order permanent will be held next Tuesday.
Rosenbaum applied for the restraining order following a September 1 letter to the parents from Delia Ruiz, the BUSD’s assistant superintendent for human resources. Ruiz was responding to an appeal on behalf of the student, against the district’s decision to keep Smith at BHS. Ruiz stated:
Mr. Smith is a high school counselor, and there is only one comprehensive high school in the District. In addition, we must comply with the collective bargaining agreement between the District and Berkeley Federation of Teachers (the teachers’ union) which includes restrictions on the ability of the District to transfer teachers. We also took into consideration the size of the high school (both in terms of student/employee population and geographic size), and the ability to minimize contact between Mr. Smith and [the student] using other means. Finally, we took into consideration all other relevant factors, including the best interests of all students at the high school, the rights of the individual teacher, and the District’s obligation to maintain a safe environment for all students. Taking into consideration all of the relevant factors, we made a decision to retain Mr. Smith at BHS. However, please be assured that he has been given a directive to stay in the counseling area, minimize the need to be on other parts of the campus, and avoid any contact with [the student], both verbal and physical. We believe that with these precautions, there is little or no chance that any additional offensive contact between the two will occur.
Ruiz’s decision was confirmed in a letter to the parents from BUSD superintendent Bill Huyett on September 8. Huyett wrote, “It is the District’s policy and practice to remedy any potential sexual harassment immediately, in order to prevent any sort of illegal harassment. We believe that the actions we have taken to date will be sufficient to prevent and deter future harassment.”
The Berkeley Unified School District declined to comment on the matter, citing their policy of never commenting on personnel issues. The Berkeley Federation of Teachers also declined to comment. Cathy Campbell, president of the BFT, said in response to Ruiz’s point about the difficulty of transferring teachers to another site, “We have an obligation to uphold our contract. There are some circumstances under which a teacher can be involuntarily transferred.” Article 8.5.10 of the BFT contract with the BUSD does state that “involuntary transfers shall not be used for punitive purposes”.
The parents of the student have widely circulated a flier about the issue to BHS parents. It concludes:
We are supporters of the Berkeley public schools. This year closes out our 21 years of having children enrolled in the Berkeley public schools. We share this information not to spread gossip or to cause problems for the Administration, but because we feel an obligation to warn other parents about this situation and to try to determine how many other BHS students may have been subjected to the same behavior. We are informed and believe that our daughter was not the first to be victimized.