By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group East Bay
The federal government is investigating the Berkeley school district's handling of a sexual harassment case brought earlier this year by a 16-year old female student against her academic advisor.
Last spring, the girl accused her counselor, Anthony Smith, of various offenses including spanking her, caressing her inner thigh, asking whether she slept in the nude and repeatedly taking her out of classes to have conversations unrelated to counseling. The school district and the school board denied the claim, but admitted Smith acted inappropriately and unprofessionally.
Now, at the request of the girl's parents, the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights is investigating a complaint that the district did not "respond promptly and equitably" to their daughter's charges against Smith.
The family also asked an Alameda County Superior Court judge for a permanent restraining order against Smith, but that was rejected in favor of an out-of-court settlement. The settlement requires Smith stay 50 yards away from the girl until the end of the school year and that he will have no contact with her.
The girl's attorney, Stephen Rosenbaum, said he continues to pursue the case because he wants Smith out of Berkeley High School.
"It continues to be inappropriate to have Mr. Smith in the position he is in where he has contact with other students," Rosenbaum said. "I think the behavior is there and the school district has chosen to call it inappropriate, but I call it sexual harassment."
Smith's attorney said she was aware of the investigation, but since it focuses on the school district's handling of the case and not Smith, she didn't have any comment.
Rosenbaum said in addition to lodging the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, he has not ruled out suing the school district or filing a complaint against Smith with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
Schools Superintendent Bill Huyett did not return a phone call Dec. 7 seeking comment for this story.