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School begins to deal with rape incident

By Juliet Leyba Daily Planet Staff
Saturday November 11, 2000

The alleged gang rape of a 12-year-old Berkeley girl by nine boys has left teachers, school officials and crisis management specialists scrambling for ways to deal with the aftermath of a crime that has shocked the middle school community. 

The first step in addressing students’ questions and fears will be a special violence prevention class, which teachers are preparing over the weekend, said Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Karen Sarlo. 

The curriculum is being put together by teachers working in the “The Second Step Program” that is designed to engage students in discussions around values, respect and conflict resolution. A Second Step curriculum has been taught weekly at Willard Middle School and other schools in the district for more than a year. 

“This program will be dealing with sexual abuse, sexual harassment, rape and peer pressure,” Sarlo said. “It will take place in the classrooms and there will be trained crisis workers present to answer questions.”  

The special instruction will be followed Wednesday by a grade-by-grade assembly, which will include personnel from both the Berkeley Police Youth Services and the Berkeley Mental Health Center who will field questions and offer support as well as teach skills to help students avoid dangerous situations.  

A community meeting will be held at Willard on Thursday to discuss the incident and how to better deal with the crisis. 

The alleged attack, which took place Oct. 25, reportedly began in a shed at Willard Middle School and, according to police, moved to 10 other off-campus locations over a period of several hours before the girl was released. The girl did not report the incident until two days later. After police confirmed that a crime was committed six of the nine suspects were arrested and then released to their parents. The boys have been suspended from school pending further investigation. Police are still searching for the two other suspects. 

“Clearly this is an area that is going to need a lot of support,” board of education member Pamela Doolan said. “Everyone is devastated and we need to come together as a community and deal with this very sensitive issue.” 

School Board President Joaquin Rivera said school officials are taking a pro-active stance and are committed to providing counseling and prevention programs to students. 

In a written statement, Rivera emphasized the school board is closely monitoring the situation to ensure that the students will be safe, a full investigation is completed in a timely manner and that the appropriate disciplinary action is taken. He also added that the school district is in the process of hiring an independent firm to investigate the incident in the hopes of shedding new light on the case. 

The question of why the school district and Board of Education were not notified of the alleged crime until Nov. 2 remains unanswered. 

“I know a Willard employee notified the police of the crime on Oct. 27 but we were not notified for another six days. We are still trying to find out what happened during that time,” School District Superintendent Jack McLaughlin said.  

“We won’t know for certain until we receive a copy of the police report.”  

McLaughlin said that the six male Willard students were suspended from school Oct. 27, the same day the police arrested them. The boys face possible expulsion if they are found guilty. 

“If the boys are expelled, which is a legal process involving written recommendations, a hearing and final approval by the school board, it will be our responsibility to place them in another educational institution,” McLaughlin said. 

“We want to resolve this in the best way for everyone. The whole community is watching. They want to know what happened and they want to know what to tell their kids.” 

Sarlo said parents of Willard students were notified by letter Nov. 2 and 3. 

Barbara Weaver, a mother of two Willard students, said she was disappointed with the way the district chose to notify parents about the incident. “They sent a written notice home with the students and middle school kids are not the most reliable mode to transport crucial information.” 

Weaver did not receive the information until a reporter approached her as she was dropping her two children off at school Monday. 

Weaver was also upset because repeated calls to the school principal went unanswered. 

“The notice stated that “an assault” took place after school but didn’t state the nature of it and is signed by the principal saying ‘please call me any concerns or questions.’” 

Weaver said she plans to attend the meeting and added that she has never had a safety issue with Willard. 

“My concern is not so much about the safety of my children because we have always been happy with the school. My concern is with their communication skills, that’s what this issue is about for me. 

Sarlo said it was never the district’s intention to keep anything from anybody.  

“We are still gathering information, we don’t have all the answers and we are cooperating with police. The results of our investigation will be discussed at the meeting on Thursday.” 

The parent meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at Willard Middle School located at 2425 Stuart St.