Berkeley School District faces 2 more child sex abuse lawsuits

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The Bonar Street headquarters of the Berkeley Unified School District. Photo: Kaia Diringer

Berkeley Unified is now facing two different alumni sexual abuse lawsuits claiming district employees — a music teacher and a disciplinary officer — sexually assaulted them when they were in elementary school.

The lawsuits, which are unrelated, detail allegations of abuse dating back to 1967 and 1995. In both cases, the lawsuits claim that employees repeatedly abused children and that the district failed to protect children. students.

The first complaint, filed in Alameda County Superior Court on March 1, alleges that William Borgfeldt, a music teacher, repeatedly sexually abused a 6th grade student at Lincoln Elementary in 1967.

The lawsuit says Borgfeldt had anal and oral sex with the child, fondled the child’s genitals, and masturbated in front of him. The abuse took place at school and on trips to Disneyland, Los Angeles and Texas, according to the lawsuit.

BUSD administrators, the suit says, failed to stop the abuse, despite the music teacher’s “reputation for abusing minors,” which the filing said was “common knowledge.” The suit claims the school district was negligent in allowing the alleged sexual assault to proceed and that the district’s actions amounted to a “cover-up.”

Extract from the Berkeley Gazette, December 16, 1979. Source: Newspapers.com

In a separate incident more than a decade later, Borgfeldt was accused of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old student, according to a Berkeley Gazette article. On December 1, 1979, Borgfeldt took the boy on a private excursion that ended at Borgfeldt’s home in El Cerrito, where police said he had made sexual advances, according to the Gazette article. . The parents filed a lawsuit against the school district. (This incident was not mentioned in the lawsuit.) Borgfeldt also taught at Franklin Elementary, Cragmont Elementary, and Willard Middle School.

Four years later, Borgfeldt was still employed at BUSD, according to the Gazette.

Borgfeldt could not be reached for comment.

In the second lawsuit, filed May 16, a former student alleged that Mr. Hardwick, a disciplinary officer at Malcolm X Elementary, abused him and other students in “an isolated room in the basement where he oversaw detention. According to the lawsuit, the abuse began when the former student was in 5th grade at Malcolm X in 1995 and continued repeatedly throughout the school year.

The lawsuit claims that Hardwick would start by massaging the student’s shoulders, then force the 5th grader to rub his genitals and perform oral sex on him.

Hardwick is now deceased.

According to the lawsuit, BUSD staff “ignored clear and obvious signs” of abuse, including complaints from other parents, and failed to report the alleged abuse. In doing so, the school district failed to implement its own policies aimed at preventing sexual assault, the lawsuit says. The suit notes that the officer had “unsupervised access to young children in a basement room.”

“My hope is that [the suit] draws attention to these issues both within the District and more broadly,” said Rachel Liebert, an attorney with the law firm Slater Slater and Schulman LLP, which specializes in California sexual abuse cases and filed the complaint on behalf of former student of Malcolm X. .

Liebert said districts should ensure that a child is never left alone with an adult in a situation like this, and that district staff comply with mandatory reporting laws.

A time-limited ‘rollback window’, which temporarily eliminated the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse in California to come forward and file civil lawsuits against their alleged abusers, closes in December . Prosecutions for childhood sexual abuse have been flood institutions like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America approaching the end of the “look-back window”.

The window only applies to people over 40, while those under 40 can continue to file claims of childhood sexual abuse.

Last year, BUSD faced two more lawsuits alleging chemistry and physical education teacher Matthew Bissell abused Rachel Phillips from 2000 to 2003, another student from 1997 to 1998 and others. students during his tenure at the school. Bissell’s teaching credential was revoked in March. And the district settled a case with a former student who claimed BUSD failed to protect her after she was sexually assaulted by another student in 2019.

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