Special School District Board Meeting Seeks to Address Gun Issue

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With just two school days left before Berkeley High School begins its spring break, about 50 school administrators and parents gathered at a special Berkeley Unified School District board meeting Wednesday night to express their anxiety over the presence of firearms on campus and try to develop a plan to respond to recent incidents at the school.

Those who spoke publicly before the board voiced ideas and criticisms similar to those broached during Monday's parent forum about guns on campus. Some called for the installation of metal detectors and improvements to the school's security staff, and others said the community should increase efforts to consult the students themselves.

"Having a conversation with my son, there were some things that were cleared up for me - things that I thought I knew - that I really didn't understand," said Antoinette Douglas, mother of a Berkeley High freshman, at the meeting.

Douglas said she was happy that her son told her he is not afraid to be on campus but that she was surprised to hear that other students had warned him not to wear certain colors and to "stay out of certain people's way."

"I don't understand how he can come to school and be able to learn and feel safe if he's got to filter these various minefields," she said.

After listening to Douglas and over 15 others, the school board viewed a report on the school's response to recent gun incidents, presented by Superintendent Bill Huyett, district Director of Student Services Susan Craig, Berkeley High School principal Pasquale Scuderi and school dean Ardarius McDonald.

Immediate actions already taken by the administration include a school-wide staff meeting held last Thursday to discuss safety procedures, a new telephone tip line for reporting knowledge of possible future incidents and increasing the number of high school safety officers from 12 to 14, possibly for the rest of the school year.

Huyett said that after much consideration, the district does not plan to install metal detectors on the campus at this time.

"We talked to (Berkeley Police Department) in length about (metal detectors), and the evidence is in large schools like ours, it is not very effective," he said. "It is very costly and very time-consuming, and it's very difficult."

However, Huyett and several board members seemed more receptive to requiring students to wear identification badges while on campus, another popular suggestion from parents at the forum. By requiring students to wear identification badges at all times on campus, individuals without the badges would not be allowed to enter the campus and jeopardize the safety of actual students, parents said.

"To be able to identify our students and identify people who don't belong there, I mean, that's an obvious first step for me," said board member John Selawsky.

While board member Karen Hemphill also expressed support for identification badges suggesting that all teachers and staff also be required to wear them board member Leah Wilson said she was personally opposed to the idea.

"We know already who is getting disciplined and suspended at Berkeley High School," Wilson said. "These are disproportionately black male students. So from purely a social justice perspective, implementing a policy that we know is going to resort in increased disproportionality in suspensions to me needs to be done with some thought."

Berkeley High students who attended the board meeting also did not endorse the identification badge proposal. Both Raymok Ketema, president of the Associated Student Body, and Ashley Webster, the campus's chief of social activities, said there are better solutions than adopting the badge system. Sophomore Marquise Ferguson said simply adding more security at campus entrances would be sufficient.

"We're the ones dealing with the problem and we're the ones most directly affected," said student director Lias Djili, the student representative on the board. "All I urge the most is that we don't jump into hasty conclusions without having full evaluation by the students."

The school board requested that the district community be updated by Friday on future plans of action. The same administrators are scheduled to come before the board on April 13, possibly with action items regarding campus safety for the board to vote on.


Jeffrey Butterfield is the lead local schools reporter. Contact him at [email protected]

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