Berkeley school officials say gun incident handled properly

Berkeley High School

Despite the concern of some parents that Berkeley school officials let the 15-year old who brought a gun to Berkeley High flee before he could be detained by police, that was the best way to handle the situation, according to Superintendent Bill Huyett.

School security officers don’t have the authority to physically detain kids, tackle them, or lock them in a room, he said. The only time they intervene physically is when there is a fight going on, he said.

“We are not law enforcement agents, so we don’t lock kids in rooms, ever,” Huyett said on Friday. “The thing that is most important is to ensure safety for all students. We do secure the suspected contraband. I’ve had kids flee on me [when he was a principal] and my advice is to not physically intervene with them.  I’ve always said, ‘Don’t give chase. Don’t physically entail. Turn it over to police.’”

The student was still at large Thursday evening, according to Sgt. Mary Kusmiss of the Berkeley police department.

On Monday, the 15-year old freshman allegedly brought a gun to school in his backpack. School started at 10 am, and by 11 am school officials had heard from multiple sources that the student had gotten a gun.

While safety officials were looking inside the backpack, the student fled. By the time Berkeley police arrived, the student was no longer on school premises.

Berkeley High Principal Pasquale Scuderi said focusing on getting the gun was the school’s top priority.

Pasquale Scuderi

“I can assure you that our decisions were based on what actions would maintain the highest level of safety for the most students throughout the incident” Scuderi said in an email. “Once the weapon, and all of the student’s property were squarely in our control we felt, and still feel, that the threat to our students had been eliminated. At that point we turned the matter, as well as the property, over to the police. We were at that point confident enough to report to parents that students were safe on campus.”

Scuderi will be meeting with Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan today to review the incident, as well as other student safety issues, he said.

“I will again ask people to not lose sight of the fact that our staff did a tremendous job of safely separating and subsequently eliminating a significant threat to our student body with calmness and professionalism,” said Scuderi.

Scuderi sent out an email to parents within hours of the incident. While it did not mention that the student had run away, Huyett praised the message as “transparent, quick, and up front.”

In fact, many parents knew about the gun even before their children did, as the school did not make a public announcement about the incident.

Still, some people were critical of the way Berkeley High handled the incident.

“Berkeley Safety Officers are not getting the oversight, monitoring or performance evaluations from supervisors to meet the requirements for maintaining a safe school,” Laura Menard, whose children attended Berkeley schools, wrote in Berkeleyside’s comment section. “This is not new NEWS, this has been the situation since the 1999 fires, [Meredith] Maran’s Class Dismissed tales and today.”

“What the heck?????,” commented another parent. “They detained him and they let him run away? What kind of mess is that? My son goes to BH and it would have been helpful if the public and parents knew that he was still at large because just maybe one of the students saw him. Well, best of luck in finding him now.”

The student will be expelled from Berkeley High as required by law, according to Huyett. If he is not sent to juvenile hall, he will probably be enrolled in one of the special programs Alameda County runs for students on probation, or with drug, alcohol or behavioral issues.

The Alameda County Office of Education runs a community school in Hayward for these types of kids, according to Bob Crose, the assistant superintendent for school programs and services. Other students do independent study, and some cities have their own “community day schools,” for students who can’t attend normal schools for legal reasons Berkeley is considering setting up one of these programs, too, said Crose. The county used to run the Rock LaFleche school, but it closed last year when the county sold the building in which it was housed. It is now looking for a new site, said Crose.

Most of the students only stay for a few semesters until they complete a rehabilitation plan that enables them to return to their normal school, he said.

Frances Dinkelspiel is co-founder and executive editor of Cityside. Email: frances@citysidejournalism.org.