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BUSD responds to Berkeley High harassment costs story

Elements of a story by California Watch on the costs to BUSD of a harassment case at BHS are disputed by the district. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The Berkeley School district says there were inaccuracies in an article by Anika Anand and Emily Hartley of California Watch which set out to uncover the cost to BUSD of a sexual harassment case at Berkeley High.

The California Watch article, which Berkeleyside published in full on July 25, said that over a period of about one year Berkeley officials had balked at disclosing how much they spent defending BHS counsellor Anthony Smith, and had failed to respond to most queries from reporters, including two Public Records Act (PRA) requests for information.

In a statement released on July 27, BUSD Deputy Superintendent Javetta Cleveland said BUSD did not respond to two PRA requests initially because the district was involved in ongoing litigation and was therefore not legally obliged to disclose any information. Once the lawsuit was settled, Cleveland said, a lawyer representing BUSD spoke with the California Watch reporter covering the story and provided information. “It was the District’s understanding that counsel’s email satisfied the requirements of both Public Record Act requests,” the statement concludes.

Asked to comment on the BUSD release, California Watch reporter Anika Anand said: “As soon as California Watch receives documentation from the district that fulfills the public records requests, California Watch will publish a follow-up story.” [Update, 2:35pm: California Watch adds that their "story was completely accurate."]

The disagreement centers on coverage of an alleged harassment case at Berkeley High, a story Berkeleyside broke in September 2010. A girl identified in court records as Lilah R. claimed that Berkeley High counselor Anthony Smith had sexually harassed her for much of her junior year, when she was 16, and that the school ignored her complaints. Superintendent William Huyett said Smith’s behavior was “inappropriate and unprofessional” – but not sexual harassment. The girl sued the district when Smith was not removed from the campus. Smith has denied any wrongdoing.

Here is the full release from BUSD:

From Javetta Cleveland, BUSD Deputy Superintendent:

In an article published by ‘California Watch’ on Wednesday, July 25, 2012, entitled “Costs unknown for Berkeley High School harassment case”, there were some statements which were not accurate.

The Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) would like a set the record straight. First, while two Public Record Act requests were sent directly to the District in September and November 2011, at that time, the District was involved in on-going litigation in the subject lawsuit. Pursuant to California Government Code Section 6254(b), “Records pertaining to pending litigation to which the public agency is a party” do not need to be disclosed “until the pending litigation or claim has been finally adjudicated or otherwise settled.” The settlement was not finalized until June 2012.

Second, BUSD did, in fact, have direct communications with the reporter, Anika Anand. After the lawsuit resolved in its entirety, the District’s counsel, James Marzan of Edrington, Schirmer & Murphy, was contacted by Ms. Anand, and was informed for the first time that Public Record Act requests had been sent to the District which were outstanding. Mr. Marzan asked Ms. Anand to forward the requests directly to him. Upon receipt, Mr. Marzan, in conjunction with the District, took immediate action and obtained the information requested. That information was e-mailed to Ms. Anand and was included in Wednesday’s article. It was the District’s understanding that counsel’s e-mail satisfied the requirements of both Public Record Act requests.

Related:
Costs unknown for Berkeley High School harassment case [07.25.12]
Berkeley High counselor given seven day suspension [05.07.12]
Berkeley School district settles sexual harassment case [01.12.12]
Berkeley High harassment case close to settling [12.08.11]
Berkeley High harassment case heading to settlement [07.21.11]
BHS sexual harassment case taken to federal court [04.22.11]
Government to assess Berkeley High harassment case [12.07.10]
BHS harassment case settles, leaves open questions [10.29.10]
BUSD decision appealed in BHS harassment case [09.21.10]
Restraining order served on Berkeley High counselor [09.16.10]

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  • Goodkind

    Berkeleyside –
    Can
    you please investigate how much the BUSD has spent on legal fees *since
    the day that Anthony Smith was escorted from the building in April 2010*
    after “Lilah R” finally reporting his fondling,stroking and nuzzling
    her and repeatedly pulling her out of class?
    It is misleding to focus simply on the
    results of the final legal case.
    — Is it true that the
    district paid for his legal costs? and continued to pay his
    legal fees? How many – and when? If so, why?

    If it is true that the district keeps spending
    our parcel tax monies on legal fees for district employees this will not
    bode well for the next parcel tax proposition, since citizens of
    Berkeley are under the impression that our EDUCATION TAX MONIES  are
    supposed to be spent on EDUCATION. We know that these monies are earmarked for certain programs. We also know that a budget is a budget and if you are sinking many dollars into a bottomless pit that money has to come from somewhere.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    After the lawsuit resolved in its entirety, the District’s counsel, James Marzan of Edrington, Schirmer & Murphy, was contacted by Ms. Anand, and was informed for the first time that Public Record Act requests had been sent to the District which were outstanding. Mr. Marzan asked Ms. Anand to forward the requests directly to him. Upon receipt, Mr. Marzan, in conjunction with the District, took immediate action and obtained the information requested. That information was e-mailed to Ms. Anand and was included in Wednesday’s article. It was the District’s understanding that counsel’s e-mail satisfied the requirements of both Public Record Act requests.

    Why did it fall to Anand to contact Marzan?  What happened to the original PRA requests and why was Marzan hearing about them “for the first time” when Anand took the initiative?  Why did Marzan have to ask Anand “to forward the requests direclty to him?”  Did BUSD not retain the request that were originally sent?  Who discarded them and why do they still have a job?

    Did Peter Scheer of the First Amendment Coalition get a response or does he too have to call Marzan?

  • susie

    So how much did it cost BUSD? Did they pay to defend only themselves or the accused as well?

  • Anonymous

    I’d put my kids in private school before I’d ever vote for another parcel tax or bond measure for BUSD unless there’s a complete independent audit and, likely, a bunch of indictments starting at the top.  That’s something I never would have imagined I’d ever say and then my kids started school in BUSD.

  • Doc

    I’m wondering if anyone can say he offered your kid competent professional service. My kid left Academic Choice largely because he couldn’t do a thing, and since counselor was essential to enrollment, she never had classes. we got her into independent study to get her away from him. Is that eveyone’s experience? Why do they keep him?

  • Anon

    Getting rid of anyone in a public bureaucracy is extremely difficult, but especially so in public education even for non-tenured employees.

    The California Teachers Union recently successfully fought a bill in the Assembly which would have made it much easier to remove child molesters from the teaching ranks.

  • Rachel Anderson

    What would the mechanism be for introducing a “complete independent audit?”  Would it come from the School Board? The City Council?

    And on a related note: is there a visual anywhere that shows the BUSD staff/role/oversight structure?

  • Mein Stein

    My direct personal experience of Anthony Smith is that he is an officious a-hole: First meeting, first statement: “Call me Mr. Smith.” Fortunately we were assigned a different counselor for my son because of “Mr. Smith’s” work load. His continued presence on campus should have been a moral ‘tipping point’ (an event that causes outrage in decent people) What cowards we must be.

  • Anonymous

     “Mr. Smith’s workload” is probably BUSD-speak for “Mr. Smith only works with young women, not men”. Cowards indeed, my daughter isn’t close to high school age but I’m pretty sure if she came home and told me her counselor said or did something creepy I wouldn’t wait around for the slow grind of the wheels of justice to do something about it.

  • Anonymous

     There is no mechanism that I know of short of the state taking over the district.  BUSD won’t even willing disclose salary information (http://www.sacbee.com/2011/01/26/995141/see-how-well-your-school-district.html), they sure as hell aren’t going to submit to a real audit.

    But the facts are (see ed-data.k12.ca.us for the data or http://sunshinereview.org/index.php/Berkeley_Unified_School_District,_California for it summarized) BUSD gets about $17K per student, roughly $6K of which just from BSEP (all of the parcel taxes and bonds measures we’ve passed). So why are parents still paying for things like elementary school PE instructors, heavily subsidizing after school enrichment programs, buying library books, etc. just like districts that are much poorer? I honestly don’t know how our elementary school would even function without the amazingly generous PTA we have.

    The closest I’ve seen to an organizational chart is a slide Huyett showed at the “Oh my gawd we’re broke!” special meeting earlier this year but it was so cryptic and obfuscated that it’s not worth looking for.

  • Goodkind

    We were lucky. Our kids had very good counselors all through BHS although severely overworked due to Slemp giving worse ratio of counselors to AC even though it housed the biggest number of students who were struggling in school.  Still, fact that counselors were assigned alphabetically gave us no Smith. That said, he absolutely had the worst reputation of any counselor in the school – and this was before sexual harassment incident. Why the school/BUSD didn’t take all this as a ripe opprotunity  to show him the door is what everyone is wondering. Because as for doing his job – he sucked, always. Attitude – sucked. Always. Never returned phone calls, said he was too busy. How did he have so much time to see that girl so many times? Most parents I know said they never saw him even if they waited outside his (closed) door. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_J6EIGOAUQMS7WL22CZ2VIQTC3I GNM

    “I’m interested in finding out how much money Berkeley Police are spending on Harassing Me,” iv’e been followed every day, there’e a Tracker on my car and im not sure what iv’e to such royal treatment. If i go to the bank there’s a squad car to my left and my right, then there’s one at the cross street and so on as i go back home, so but im working on a documentary about my experience, i have there face ands car numbers so when i’m finished there going to have some explaining to us Berkeley Tax payers.

    To be continued.