BHS staff failed student who was sexually assaulted on campus, lawsuit says

A female student at Berkeley High School has sued the Berkeley Unified School District over how administrators handled her attempted rape on campus last year, new records show.

Berkeley High School, March 2018. Photo: Nancy Rubin
Berkeley High School, March 2018. Photo: Nancy Rubin

Update, Feb. 21: BUSD says school staff did report the sexual assault allegation to police.

Update, Feb. 7: A “school mandated reporter” did alert the Berkeley police about this incident on May 14, 2019, said Officer Byron White, BPD spokesman. “Because of the privacy considerations for juveniles, we are unable to share further.”

After learning more background about this incident, some of which we cannot share, Berkeleyside has decided to remove the names of the defendants from this story. Berkeleyside will follow this case through the court process and will report the outcome when it is known.

Original story: A female student at Berkeley High School has sued the Berkeley Unified School District over how administrators handled her attempted rape on campus last year, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in Alameda County Superior Court.


The plaintiff in the lawsuit is a female student identified in court papers only as Jane Doe.

According to the lawsuit, administrators told the student “her assailant had assaulted 6-10 other girls” at Berkeley High. Staff “were aware that the male student that assaulted Jane Doe had assaulted numerous other students at the school, yet nothing was done to adequately supervise this student and ensure that he was not a danger to Jane Doe and others,” according to the complaint.

The counselor she told about the incident “was a mandatory reporter, yet she did not report the assault to Child Protective Services (CPS) or the police,” the suit alleges. A BHS assistant principal “failed to promptly notify Jane Doe’s parents” about the assault, according to the lawsuit, “and failed to implement any kind of safety plan to ensure that Jane Doe felt safe at school.”

According to the lawsuit, the incident took place May 3, 2019, in a Berkeley High classroom that was normally locked. A male student — who is also unnamed in court papers — allegedly forced Jane Doe into the room and groped her, then continued to sexually assault her.


“Jane Doe repeatedly said no and asked him to stop,” according to the lawsuit, “until she was able to push him away and flee.”

Several days later, the student told a BHS counselor about the assault, according to the lawsuit. The next day, the counselor told the assistant principal about the sexual assault, court papers allege.

The counselor and assistant principal knew that the classroom where the alleged assault took place “was unsupervised, secluded and was used by students to engage in illicit activities, including sexual behavior, yet Defendants failed to take steps to secure the classroom or adequately supervise students in the vicinity,” according to the filing.

The male student “was allowed to further victimize and sexually harass her at school,” the suit alleges.

Attorney Jayme Walker, of Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli, & Brewer, told Berkeleyside on Wednesday that school staff were negligent in their supervision of both Jane Doe and the male student implicated in the sexual assault.

Walker said the counselor was required by law to notify either police or Child Protective Services when Jane Doe disclosed to her, but the counselor did neither. She said the assistant principal did ultimately tell Jane Doe’s parents what happened but “it took them a long time to actually get in touch.”

The sexual assault left a lasting impact on Jane Doe, the suit alleges.

“Jane Doe does not feel safe at school and her access to a public education free from sexual harassment has been, and continues to be, denied,” according to the complaint. She has suffered from “severe emotional distress” as a result of the sexual assault, and has been plagued by “crying spells, episodes of depression and anger, anxiety about attending school and seeing her assailant, and trouble focusing in class.”

The lawsuit asks the court “to ensure that the defendants establish and enforce policies and procedures protecting their students from sexual harassment and abuse,” for damages including medical bills, and for “reasonable attorneys’ fees,” among other requests. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for July.

These issues have not arisen in a vacuum. A vocal group of students and parents has accused the district over the years of dismissing their concerns too often about sexual assault on campus.

This week, students took matters into their own hands by writing a list in black marker inside a girls bathroom stall identifying six “boys to watch out 4.” Some were identified as rapists, while others were described as suspicious.

“Support each other always,” a note next to the list reads. “Add names if you want.”

Berkeleyside asked Berkeley Unified and Berkeley High for comment and there was no response.

Update, Feb. 13: Berkeley Unified replied to Berkeleyside with the following statement: “The safety and well-being of our students are paramount in this district and at Berkeley High School, and we take all allegations of this kind very seriously. It’s important to remember that the allegations being made against these dedicated educators with strong professional histories are unproven. While we cannot comment on pending litigation, we are aware of the underlying circumstances in this lawsuit and have been engaged with the parties involved, although we only became aware of the lawsuit through the local media.”

Note: Berkeleyside asked BUSD and BHS for comment before publication but there was no response. A line has been added to the story to reflect this.

Emilie Raguso is senior editor, news, at Berkeleyside. Email: emilie@berkeleyside.com. Twitter: emraguso. Phone: 510-459-8325.