Berkeley High School, where there were six gun incidents in 2010-2011

Three months after two students accidentally discharged a gun in a Berkeley High School bathroom, a task force empaneled to study the issue of weapons has concluded that the school should not install metal detectors or close the campus during lunch, but should require students to carry – but not necessarily display — identification cards.

In addition, the school could improve safety by more closely controlling who comes in and out of the campus. To do that, the high school should reduce the number of entrances to campus to four and hire monitors to stand by the gates. The school should more strictly enforce its visitors’ policy to make sure everyone on campus has a legitimate reason to be there, according to the report.

The school should also retain the 12 safety officers currently on staff – up from 10 in previous years — and hire a second full-time police officer for the campus, if financially feasible. All security personnel should be required to wear uniforms that plainly identify them to students, staff and the police, concludes the report, which will be presented to the school board on June 29.

The eleven-page set of recommendations is the culmination of three months of work by the Ad Hoc Safety Committee, which was appointed by Superintendent Bill Huyett in April to review policies and procedures in the city’s high schools after a spate of six gun incidents in a two-and-a-half month period from January to March 2011. The large number of weapons found on campus deeply distressed the community and the school board and led to emotional community meetings, student focus groups, police training, a flurry of online comment, and a sense of urgency that the district had to quickly address a growing problem.

Right after the sixth gun incident on March 25th, the school district took a number of immediate steps to try and improve the situation and asked the 15-member task force to examine some long-term policy questions on how to eliminate – or at least minimize – the presence of weapons at school.

The district bumped up its security detail by hiring two more school safety officers and increasing the presence of a uniformed police officer on campus from four to five days a week. Berkeley High closed some entrances to the massive campus, positioned security guards at the gates in the morning and after lunch, and stepped up patrols in out of way portions of the campus. It installed an anonymous hotline to report weapons. There have been no other guns discovered on the Berkeley High or B-Tech campuses since the security upgrades.

The report, and discussion among committee members, provide some new details on the six gun incidents, which included six Berkeley students and one non-Berkeley student.

  • All of the on-campus incidents happened in the morning while the off-campus incident happened after school was dismissed.
  • A total of seven Berkeley students and one non-Berkeley students were involved in the six gun incidents.
  • Six of the seven students were not on probation prior to the incident
  • One student was a senior, three were juniors, one was a sophomore, and one was a freshman.
  • Three students had not had prior discipline incidents this year before they brought weapons to school.
  • All the students were male.
  • One student was homeless.
  • All resided in Berkeley
  • All have been expelled from the district

The district also asked an independent evaluator, Albert Bahn, the owner of Edu-Safe Associates, to walk through the Berkeley High and B-Tech campuses and do a safety assessment and examine the schools’ emergency plans. He found few safety deficiencies and declared “the current security measures in place at Berkeley High School are better than those at most public high schools.”

The school board will have the final say on whether to implement the task force’s recommendations. It allocated $89,000 at the end of the term to beef up security. The actions recommended in the report would cost an estimated $180,000. Most of that is staff costs.

Here is an excerpt from the report with the major recommendations:

Police Presence at Schools: BUSD currently has one BPD School Resource Officer who works from Tuesdays through Fridays at BHS and has recently added a second .25FTE School Resource Officer to work at BHS on Mondays. BPD has recommended that a second full-time School Resource Officer be added to provide coverage at the three middle schools. The cost of adding a full-time School Resource Officer is approximately $150,000 – $180,000 per year. The Ad Hoc Safety Committee is in favor of adding a second School Resource Officer if available funding can be found.

District Security Staffing: The Ad Hoc Safety Committee recommends that the District continue to provide the increased Safety Officer staffing at B.H.S. that was implemented during the second semester of the 2010-2011 school year of 12 Safety Officers.  The District will provide a second Safety Officer at B-Tech upon request by the B-Tech Principal. In addition, the committee recommends that four Campus Monitors be hired to supervise the three entrances on Milvia Street and the gate between the administration building and the Little Theater.

Uniforms for Safety Officers and Campus Monitors:The Ad Hoc Safety committee unanimously agreed that Safety Officers and Campus Monitors have a visible uniform which includes slacks and a jacket or top that has visible lettering on the front and back. The lettering does not need to state “SECURITY”; it can state, for example, “BUSD STAFF”. The uniform should be professional in appearance, have an approachable look, and allow a Safety Officer or Campus Monitor to be identified from the back at a distance. The uniform must be a requirement for duty and compliance must be monitored by site administration.

Gun/Violence Prevention Education:Gun/violence prevention education will be offered at BHS and B-Tech so that students are educated regarding the dangers of guns and will know what to do if they see one. Gun/violence prevention education will teach students that handling of any gun on campus is unsafe and illegal. Each small learning community leadership team at BHS will build one to two lessons of gun/violence prevention education into the curriculum.  Guest presenters will provide testimonials regarding the dangers of guns.  Gun safety education must also be provided to parents.  In addition, a Gun Free Zone must be created around schools.  BUSD will work with the City Council regarding this initiative.

Procedures for Visitors to Campus: The District has an existing visitor policy; however, it is difficult to enforce with the design of the administration building at BHS.  The District must provide visible signage regarding the visitor policy at all schools, a barrier to direct visitors in the BHS administration building, and separate entrances for students and adults at BHS.  BHS administration will arrange for students to enter through the gate next to the administration building and adults to enter through the administration building.  Every visitor will be required to wear a visitor badge when on campus.

Programs to Strengthen Positive School Culture:The Ad Hoc Safety Committee recognizes that bullying, truancy, and related issues with student behavior may contribute to an environment that is conducive to firearms and other weapons and violence at schools. The committee agrees that the District should implement a program to strengthen positive school culture at the high schools. The committee recommends both a Tier I school-wide program to strengthen a positive school culture and a Tier II program targeted towards students who are having significant behavior issues.  The District has already made a commitment to participate in a multi-agency Tier II initiative called Lifelines to Healing. A Tier I program has not been selected yet; the committee agrees that several programs should be considered prior to making a decision. The District has already implemented a process for providing transitional support for high risk students as a Tier II intervention through the use of a counselor at B-Tech and a teacher on special assignment at Berkeley High School. The District is examining further collaboration with outside agencies, including Berkeley Mental Health, to expand mental health services and other support for high risk students.

Closed Campus: Current policy is that the BHS campus is closed between classes (periods one, two and three, and periods four, five, and six) and is open only at lunch time.  The current policy is not monitored adequately and must be strictly and consistently enforced.  BHS has a student population of over 3,000 students and has the capacity to feed 500 students during the lunch period.  Presently, due to limited available facilities for feeding students on campus, it is not feasible to close the campus at lunch time. However, the District will explore the costs of facilities, personnel and other resources for closing the campus in the future.

Perimeter Security: BHS will reduce the number of entrances for students to four. The four entrances will be 1) between the administration building and the Little Theater, 2) at Milvia and Kittredge, 3) at Milvia and Bancroft, and 4) at Milvia and Durant. Each entrance will be permanently staffed with a BUSD Campus Monitor.  In addition, Safety Officers and the BPD School Resource Officer will jointly patrol the perimeter of BHS and the neighborhood that is in close proximity to the school.

Screening for Weapons:There has been some interest from parents and community members regarding metal detectors. However, District administration, the external consultant, and BPD do not think metal detectors are an effective option, and the committee does not support this option. It is not feasible to process over 3,000 students through metal detectors within a limited period of time.  The District will provide ongoing training for Safety Officers and administrators regarding search and seizure procedures, protocols, and standards for what constitutes reasonable suspicion.

Identification Badges for Students: The Ad Hoc Safety Committee is in support of requiring identification badges for students, per school policy. The committee is split, however, regarding whether or not to require the identification badges to be visible at all times. The Superintendent recommends for the coming school year that the District require identification badges and examine the possible benefits of requiring the identification badges to be visible in the future. The committee recommends that identification badges be checked for any student entering or leaving campus early or late but not at lunch break.  Periodic identification badge checks will be conducted, possibly during advisory. In addition, identification badges will be required for attendance at extra-curricular activities including athletic events, dances, and proms. The option of requiring identification badges for middle school students in order to prepare them for high school should be explored.

Increased Collaboration Between the Berkeley Unified School District and the Berkeley Police Department: The District will meet collaboratively with representatives from the Berkeley Police Department on a regular basis and maintain ongoing communication. The BUSD Superintendent, BPD Chief of Police, BPD Sergeant of Youth Services, and BUSD Director of Student Services plan to meet on a quarterly basis. In addition, representatives from BPD and Probation will be invited to attend monthly Secondary Council meetings with the middle and high school Principals.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...