The claim: Sen. Kamala Harris lied about being part of the second class to be integrated at her elementary school
After a heated Democratic presidential debate clash in June 2019 between former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., social media posts and articles surfaced claiming Harris lied about her experience with Berkeley Public Schools.
"There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me," Harris said during the debate. Shortly after, users on social media questioned her statement.
Since Biden announced the California senator as his running mate in November's presidential election, the allegation that Harris lied about her experience has gained steam, along with many other false claims about Harris' past.
"Kamala Harris claimed to be bussed in the 60's due segregation type issues," reads an Aug. 12 Facebook post that has been shared more than 19,000 times. "She was born in 1964, thus 6 years old in 1970."
The user did not respond to a request for comment from USA TODAY.
After the debate, The Gateway Pundit, a site rated by Media Bias/Fact check as questionable for having an extreme right-wing bias and promoting conspiracy theories, published an article headlined, "SHE LIED: Kamala Harris Says She Was in Second Integrated Class in Berkeley – But Yearbook Pictures Prove She’s Lying."
USA TODAY reached out to Gateway Pundit for comment.
Berkeley Public Schools: 'Harris is correct'
After many questions from the media about Harris' experience at Berkeley's Thousand Oaks Elementary School, the school district issued a statement to clear up the misinformation.
"Senator Harris is correct in describing her experience as the second class to be part of the busing integration program," Berkeley Public Schools wrote in 2019. "All Berkeley elementary schools were integrated through an innovative two-way busing plan, which was implemented voluntarily by our district beginning in 1968."
The school district said Harris joined first grade in 1970, two years after the two-way busing plan was implemented voluntarily.
Honored to be included among so many extraordinary women — @Malala Yousafazai, @DoloresHuerta, Ruth Asawa, @serenawilliams, and Anne Frank — in a mural at my alma mater Thousand Oaks Elementary School. pic.twitter.com/RcM8Ks1WNk
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) January 16, 2019
Confusion started because social media users noted that Berkeley's high school was already integrated, but the high school was integrated by default.
Elementary schools "reflected the racial composition of our neighborhoods, which like many neighborhoods across America reflected the history of segregation stemming from policies which restricted the opportunities of non-white residents," Berkeley Public Schools' site says.
Yearbook photos are misleading
Many blog sites and social media users refer to Berkeley High School yearbook photos showing Black and white students in the 1960s as proof to support the claim that Harris lied about her experience. This is misleading because Berkeley was – and still is – the only public high school in the city; therefore, it was integrated by necessity.
Charles Burress, district spokesman, told The Associated Press, "That’s where all the kids in the city would go," and the school system has “accepted as fact” that Harris went to Thousand Oaks Elementary School.
According to historical information from Berkeley schools, the school board voted unanimously to desegregate all 14 of the district's elementary schools Jan. 15, 1968.
Former Harris campaign spokesman Ian Sams confirmed to The Associated Press that Harris started school at Thousand Oaks Elementary a year later.
News website Berkeleyside reported that Harris was bused to school from her family's apartment on Bancroft Way.
Carole Porter, neighbor and friend of Harris, said in an email to CNN, "Kamala and I took the bus to Thousand Oaks School in Berkeley together."
Our ruling: False
Harris was part of the second integrated class at Thousand Oaks Elementary School. She started attending public school in first grade, in 1970, and the school district's full integration was approved in 1968. We rate the claim that she lied about being part of that integrated class as FALSE because it is not supported by our research.
Our fact-check sources:
Berkeley Public Schools, July 2019: The History of Integration in Berkeley Elementary Schools and Senator Harris
Associated Press, June 18, 2019: NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week
Berkeley Public Schools, Dec. 17, 2018: 50th Anniversary of Berkeley’s Pioneering Busing Plan for School Integration
Berkeleyside, Jan. 24, 2019: Did Kamala Harris’ Berkeley childhood shape the presidential hopeful?
New York Times, June 30, 2019: Kamala Harris and Classmates Were Bused Across Berkeley. The Experience Changed Them.
Los Angeles Times, June 30, 2019: School busing in Berkeley during Kamala Harris’ childhood was both voluntary and volatile
The Atlantic, July 1, 2019: There’s a Generational Shift in the Debate Over Busing
PolitiFact, July 2, 2019: Was Kamala Harris ‘part of second class to integrate’ Berkeley's public schools?
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: School district confirms Harris was part of busing