On Friday, the Berkeley Unified School District publicly denied a recent claim by a student that a Berkeley High staff member failed to tell police about her sexual assault report.
The allegation was one of several the student made against district staff, including a Berkeley High counselor and assistant principal, in a lawsuit filed Jan. 31 in Alameda County Superior Court. The student is identified in court paperwork only as Jane Doe. The lawsuit alleges the district was negligent in its supervision of Doe and a male student she says tried to rape her in an unsupervised classroom on campus.
The district has previously said little about the case. Public agencies generally decline to comment on any lawsuit that is underway. But Superintendent Brent Stephens took a strong stand Friday about one allegation, that BHS staff “failed to properly report an alleged sexual assault to the authorities,” he wrote in a community message that was posted on the district’s website.
“This allegation made against these dedicated educators with strong professional histories is not true,” he wrote. “While we cannot comment on the details of this pending litigation, we can strongly assert that our educators followed district policy and appropriately reported the allegation to the Berkeley Police Department.”
He continued: “We take all allegations of sexual harm very seriously, and we are also committed to providing a thorough investigation and fair due process.”
Berkeleyside asked the Berkeley Police Department in early February about whether Jane Doe’s alleged sexual assault on May 3, 2019, had been reported to them. BPD told Berkeleyside that a “school mandated reporter” did alert police on May 14.
According to the lawsuit, Doe told a counselor about the incident on May 8.
BPD did not share the name of the mandated reporter with Berkeleyside, and said it could say nothing else “because of the privacy considerations for juveniles.”
BUSD told Berkeleyside the district first learned about the lawsuit when Berkeleyside inquired about it on Feb. 5.
In a prepared statement dated Feb. 6, BUSD said it takes “all allegations of this kind very seriously,” adding that “the safety and well-being of our students are paramount in this district and at Berkeley High School.”
BUSD also stressed that, as with any case, all of the claims in the lawsuit are allegations rather than facts.
“It’s important to remember that the allegations being made against these dedicated educators with strong professional histories are unproven,” according to the Feb. 6 statement. “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.”
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.