Some of the BHS students who took to the streets Friday after school on the last day of Unity Week. Photo, taken from Shattuck Avenue and Bancroft Way, by Peter Shelton

Update, Oct. 26: Berkeley High School Principal Erin Schweng sent a letter to the student body Wednesday afternoon, noting that many students are still “dealing with a lot of feelings and emotion” as a result of the fights and arrests after “Unity Week.”

She wrote that rumors about the incidents abound.

“Here are a few things I can say that are true,” the letter said. “Three students were arrested, as was Mr. Boltz, our Dean of Attendance. All of them were released within a few hours after the event. Many things were happening at once, and the level of police response went suddenly from a few officers that we knew to multiple police cars and officers. Police officers and students engaged with each other in ways that were hard to witness, and left many students feeling upset and traumatized. Given the earlier events of this month at Berkeley High in which race and racism have been a huge source of pain for many students, I know this has added to already tense and raw feelings.”

Schweng wrote that the BHS administration is in talks with district staff and the Berkeley Police Department to improve interactions during emergencies, and offered counseling to students who are having a hard time. Read the full letter.

Also on Wednesday, Ramona Coats, vice president of equity and inclusion on the PTA Council, told the School Board that students of color in particular are reeling from watching three of their black and Latino classmates forcefully handcuffed on the ground. She said the perception among student witnesses is that one of the students who was arrested and Boltz were both actually trying to stop the fights.

Board Member Judy Appel said the district is talking with police and looking into what happened Friday.

Some parents shared with Berkeleyside letters they wrote to the Berkeley High administration asking the staff to better supervise the students to prevent violence.

Original story, Oct. 20: Three Berkeley High students and one administrator were arrested Friday evening when fights broke out at the end of Berkeley High’s annual Unity Week celebration, according to Berkeley police.

After school let out in the afternoon, hundreds of students, clad in the school colors of red and gold, flooded the streets and marched around downtown Berkeley. Around 5:05 p.m., as the group of about 500 headed up Allston Way, at least three separate fights occurred near the Harold Way intersection, said BPD Lt. Kevin Reece.

Three juveniles were arrested in connection with the fights, during which a police officer was punched in the face, Reece said. Reece said one BHS staff member was also arrested, on suspicion of resisting arrest or obstruction. BPD said Sunday evening the staff member who was arrested was Allen Boltz, dean of attendance.

Berkeley Unified initially disputed that its employee was arrested, but confirmed the arrest around 10 p.m.

“Late this evening, we were informed by Berkeley police that, contrary to an earlier report we received, that a Berkeley High staff member was in fact arrested and soon after released with a citation,” said a statement sent to Berkeleyside by BUSD spokesman Charles Burress.

Reece confirmed Boltz was cited and released, and said the juveniles were in the process of being released to their parents around 6 p.m.

“Once we got the fights cleared out, it returned to normal within five minutes,” he said.

John Gregg, a reporter on vacation in Berkeley, was in the area when he heard the commotion on Allston Way. He saw police cars approaching the scene.

“It looked like there might have been some sort of fight. Two girls were crying,” he said. “Some of the people and students there kind of crowded in and got pretty close to the police.”

Gregg saw the police arrest the students, then separate the BHS staff member from the crowd and handcuff him as well. “He kept saying, ‘I’m not resisting arrest,'” Gregg said.

Activists from Refuse Fascism were at the scene too, speaking through a bullhorn. The group later posted video of an officer pinning one of the students to the ground as he handcuffed him, saying it was a demonstration of police brutality.

Burress said he could not name the employee who was involved in the incident. A letter sent out to Berkeley High families around 6 p.m. said at least two students sustained minor injuries during the event.

During Unity Week, which ran from Oct. 16 through Friday, students dress up for different theme days, then attend an all-school assembly designed to bring the BHS community together. The series of events is a rebranding of a long-time Berkeley High tradition formerly called “Spirit Week,” which used to culminate in an outdoor rally, where students would stand in groups by grade level and yell cheers.

Issues with substance abuse and violence during Spirit Week a few years ago led administrators to cancel, then restructure, the event.

Update, Oct. 24: An additional adult, a parent of a student, was also arrested in connection with the Allston and Harold fight, and quickly released, according to Berkeley police and BUSD.

Read more about Spirit Week at Berkeley High.

This story was updated throughout Friday evening as BUSD released new information, and Sunday when BPD released Boltz’s name.

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...