Last Wednesday, Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Enikia Ford Morthel announced that two Berkeley High students brought guns to school. Both have since been arrested.
Unfortunately, these events come on the heels of several incidents affecting the BHS community, both on and off campus, making it clear that additional violence-prevention investment and action are needed.
In 2022, we saw the arrest of a student planning a school shooting, the shooting of a student only a hundred yards away from the high school and the tragic murder of two students off campus. Last spring, a group of parents whose children were assaulted by other students pleaded with the school board to do more to hold violent individuals accountable and prevent more harm. Beyond these high-profile incidences, there have been several cases of fighting, assault and weapon confiscation that have not been made public.
Violence and the fear of violence interfere with life at our school, affecting students, teachers, staff and administrators. Data from the California Department of Education’s Healthy Kids Survey, given every two years to our middle and high school students, reveals that over 1% of students in Alameda County report sometimes carrying a gun to school and more than four times carrying a weapon other than a gun. This may seem like a small number, but for a 3,600-student body like Berkeley High, it suggests that the two guns found this week are but a fraction of the weapons on campus.
This is not a new problem. Every few years another incident makes us stop and ask: What could we have done? In the aftermath, concerned staff, administrators, parents and students do research, consult with experts and develop recommendations and plans. Time passes, and the recommendations are rarely implemented.
In 2011, six guns were confiscated at Berkeley High in less than two months, setting off a review and recommendation process by BUSD. The superintendent presented recommendations at a special board meeting focused on school safety, and the Berkeley Police Department similarly offered their recommendations for best practices and improvements. Most of these proposals, first made when today’s BHS seniors were in kindergarten, have either not been acted upon or were tentatively implemented and then neglected. They include increasing the number of safety officers, having safety officers in uniform, providing continuing training for security officers and administrators, improving the monitoring of bathrooms, and more robust control of campus access. Last spring, the BHS Safety Committee formally recommended that the number of safety officers be increased from 12 to 18 to enable better coverage of the expansive campus. BUSD provided an additional two officers, bringing the total to 14. This is inadequate for a campus with eight buildings occupying more than 500,000 square feet in downtown Berkeley and classes, sports and clubs starting early in the morning until late at night.
When students bring guns to school or otherwise threaten safety on campus, immediate reaction often focuses on the consequences for those involved. According to the California Education Code, students who bring guns onto school grounds must be suspended and recommended for expulsion. But the significance of these incidents goes beyond the discipline of two students and once again highlights the need for the school board, district staff and the BHS administration to allocate additional resources and take explicit action on the recommendations of safety experts before thoughts and prayers are offered on the heels of another tragedy.
Gary Wolf, Dan Smuts and Liliana Cardile are parents of Berkeley High students and the chair, vice chair and committee reporter, respectively, of the Berkeley High School Safety Committee. a standing subcommittee of the School Site Council made up of Berkeley Unified School District students, administrators, teachers, staff, and parents and guardians. This affiliation is noted for identification purposes only, and the perspectives represented in this opinion do not represent those of the Safety Committee but rather the individual authors.
"*" indicates required fields