Board of Education meets to discuss firearm safety

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Correction Appended

Following the first meeting of the Ad Hoc Advisory Committee on Safety formed by Superintendent Bill Huyett, the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education met Wednesday night to discuss possible measures to improve safety on school campuses after four firearm-related incidents were reported since January.

The committee, which consists of six district employees, four parents and two high school students, will advise the board on recommendations to improve safety regulations at Berkeley High School and Berkeley Technology Academy after a spike in reported firearm incidents on the school campuses.

In a report released by the district on April 5, district officials estimated that the overall plan will cost about $89,000 for additional staffing and safety training.

The board voted to allocate money to implement the recommended safety measures, such as requiring students and staff to wear identification badges while on campus, citing the need to further identify the reason why firearms are being brought to campus.

"It is not necessarily that non-students are committing the crimes," board director Karen Hemphill said at the meeting. "What we have been hearing is that the reason why many students have weapons is they are afraid of non-students coming on campus or waiting for them after school."

District Director of Student Services Susan Craig said students feel safe on the Berkeley High campus but may believe the window from campus to home is a danger zone. She added that may be why some students arm themselves with weapons.

Many Berkeley High parents who attended Wednesday's meeting called for more stringent security measures to be implemented on campus, including reassessing the effectiveness of the school's zero-tolerance policy on firearms and closing some entrances and exits to the school to prevent guns from entering the campus.

In an April 12 letter to Huyett and City Manager Phil Kamlarz, Trudy Washburn of the Berkeley Safe Neighborhoods Committee voiced her support for recommendations suggested by Berkeley Police Department Chief Michael Meehan to increase support given to high-risk students, develop an anti-truancy program to prevent further crime on campus and also provide more academic support to high-risk students.

"The link between truancy and the potential for future criminal behavior is well documented," the letter read. "The City and District should proceed to formulate and implement an anti-truancy program and a data-driven early warning system."

At the board meeting Wednesday night, Berkeley High Principal Pasquale Sceduri announced the introduction of an anonymous text message-based tip line that students and staff can use to inform school and safety officials about perceived threats on campus.

Scuderi said at the meeting that he is working with security officers - who will be stationed at the high school until the end of the academic year - to reduce the number of entrances and exists to the school, in an effort to more closely monitor the students, staff and visitors.

According to Huyett, the district plans to implement this change before the end of school year, a visible change to the school that board director Josh Daniels said will help allay the fears of both parents and students for whom life on the ground has not changed.

"There is a sense that the immediate response taken by the district does not reflect a true understanding of fear and concern among our parents," Daniels said. "The fact is that situation for the average kid has not changed all the much."

Although the board has not scheduled a discussion on safety regulations for an upcoming meeting, it will continue debate on approving safety measures as the committee begins formulating its recommendations. The committee's next meeting is scheduled for April 19.


Correction: Saturday, April 16, 2011
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the board did not approve allocating $89,000 to fund additional security measures. In fact, they did.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Contact Amruta Trivedi at [email protected]

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