‘Worst moments of my life.’ Former Berkeley High student alleges repeated abuse by teacher
Soon after Rachel Phillips arrived at H Building for her senior yearbook photo shoot, she felt a hug from behind. She said she quickly realized it was her chemistry teacher, the one she alleges sexually assaulted and harassed her throughout her four years at Berkeley High School.
“He finds my ear and my neck and he starts making out with the side of my face,” Phillips recalled. “He grabs my crotch and lifts me into his arms like a baby.”
“It was one of the worst moments of my life,” Phillips recalled in a Zoom interview with The Chronicle on Wednesday. “I went into a really deep depression. I was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.”
The photo culminated four years of sexual abuse and harassment at the hands of Bissell, according to a lawsuit filed by Phillips last month. From ages 14 to 17, Phillips alleged that Bissell would slap or squeeze her butt in class or on the track “nearly every day,” touch her crotch, lick or suck on her neck, kiss her neck or ear, put his tongue in her ear, reach into her pants and pull her thong underwear up, and talk about her breasts, among other inappropriate behavior.
Attempts to contact Bissell, 47, who has not been charged with a crime, were not successful.
Phillips sued Bissell and the Berkeley Unified School District, alleging negligence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, battery and gender violence, among other causes of action. In April, the district mailed a letter to Phillips concluding that the complaint she levied to them last October of alleged sexual abuse and harassment had been substantiated. The report also concluded that Bissell had engaged in “inappropriate behavior” toward multiple students “over the years.”
Phillips’ attorney John Winer said he has seven other former students as clients who attended Berkeley High between 2014 and 2018 with allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior by Bissell. They all plan to join the lawsuit, he said.