Pasquale Scuderi: "Alarmingly casual relationship between young people and guns"

In a special session of the Berkeley Unified School District board last night, board members, staff and parents agreed on the need for urgent action in response to a string of gun incidents at Berkeley High School and B-Tech. Among the immediate likely steps will be a requirement for visible IDs for students and staff.

Before the board received a staff presentation on its response to weapons at the schools (large PDF), a stream of concerned parents spoke about their worries and concerns.

“This is a crisis,” said Jason Lewis, who has two children at BHS. “We are entrusting you to take care of our children and to educate them. If children aren’t safe, they can’t be educated.”

Ginny Roemer, who has a freshman son at BHS, said, “Law enforcement has not permeated through the gates of Berkeley High.”

Antoinette Douglas, who has a freshman son at BHS, said he had been warned on how to behave to be safe: “Don’t wear certain colors, avoid these people, stay out of these peoples’ ways.”

Joyce Fleming, whose daughter is a freshman at BHS, said, “I want to know what we’re going to do. My blood is boiling.”

Superintendent Bill Huyett introduced the staff response by cautioning that “this is in no way a plan yet”. He commended BHS Principal Pasquale Scuderi for the ways in which he had handled the incidents and communicated with students, parents and the wider community.

With Director of Student Services Susan Craig, Huyett outlined what the high school and the district had already done in response, including meetings with students and parents, lengthy consultation with the Berkeley Police Department, and increased security supervision on the campuses of both BHS and B-Tech.

“People say that some things have to change and I do believe that,” Huyett said. “Our schools are very proud of being the way we were. But times change, things change, and we have to change.”

Huyett said the BPD had made a number of recommendations for increased security including limiting the open campus at the schools (making it a privilege and not a right), improving the school security program with more training, uniforms and equipment, requiring visible ID cards for students, and instituting “comprehensive intake” and case management for the highest risk students.

Most of the police recommendations are on the district’s list of ideas being considered, although a move to a closed or only partially open campus was not mentioned by any of the staff or board members last night. The district’s list includes additionally increased supervision of Civic Center Park across the street from BHS and measures to reduce truancy. Huyett said that neither he nor the police believed that metal detectors could be effective or practical at such a large school.

Board members’ comments and questions about the staff report focused largely on two issues: a firm timetable for action and a desire for some steps that could be taken swiftly. Directors made clear that a real action plan with a timetable would be expected at the board’s April 13 meeting. All the board members who spoke, with the exception of Leah Wilson, were in favor of visible IDs for students and staff at the high schools.

Student director Lias Djili cautioned against taking swift action without understanding the problem. “Disease is rarely what kills a person,” he said, “it’s the immune system’s response that kills. I’d urge that we don’t jumpt to any hasty decisions.”

When questioned by director Josh Daniels about the causes of the gun incidents, Scuderi cited a number of broad, social issues. But, he said, “We’re finding an alarmingly casual relationship between young people and guns.”

Director Karen Hemphill urged speedy action, and reiterated the importance of visible ID cards. “No one has ever questioned me on campus,” she said. Hemphill also thought more action was needed on the park.

“When you have the high school, the school district, the city offices and the police department around that park, it sends a message that it’s an open bazaar,” she said. “Too many people see BHS as a retail opportunity.”

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...