New school for expelled kids prompts concerns

Residents who live around the Berkeley Adult School on San Pablo Avenue are concerned about a plan to bring students to the campus who have been kicked out from traditional high schools because of criminal activity.

The Alameda County Office of Education, which has responsibility for teenagers expelled from their local school districts, wants to open a community school in one of the campus’ classrooms.

Many of the students would be from Berkeley. They are considered “at risk” kids because they have committed crimes or are on probation, according to Councilwoman Linda Maio. Chronic truants are also placed in county-run community schools.

Unfortunately, the Berkeley Unified School District and Alameda County Office of Education started formulating this plan in December without gathering input from nearby residents, said Maio. There has not been a lot of information available, prompting negative rumors to circulate about the types of kids who might be coming.  Some neighbors are worried.


“The details about who they are, the kinds of things that caused them to be expelled, that has to be discussed,” said Maio. “These are our kids. These are Berkeley kids. These are kids who don’t deserve to be flushed down the toilet.”

There will be a meeting Wednesday at 7 pm at the Adult School to discuss the plan.

“We want to get accurate information out to the community about what the program is and we want to hear feedback from community members about their concerns,” said Susan Craig, the BUSD director of student services.

The school board will have the final say on whether to place the program at the Adult School, she said.

In 2009, Alameda County officials sold the property housing the Rock LaFleche campus, the main school for at risk teenagers, and have been searching for smaller alternative sites since then, according to Bob Crose, the assistant superintendent for school programs and services. Students who have been expelled from BUSD and other districts are now taught in scattered classrooms around the county, including one in Hayward.

But the goal is to teach students, if possible, in their home communities, he said. The community school plans to use one classroom at the Adult School, he said. Most of the students would be from Berkeley, but others may come from Albany, Emeryville, Piedmont, and north Oakland. There would be about 15 full-time students and 25 to 30 independent study students who would meet with a teacher for about an hour each week. There will be two teachers, an aide, and a roving supervisor.

The office plans to hire the Adult School’s safety officer for an additional three hours each day to supervise the students, said Crose. Burr Guthrie, the principal of the Adult School, said he plans to ask the county to pay for a safety officer for five hours each day.

Alameda County hoped to open the school this year but it probably won’t happen until next fall, said Mark Coplan, a spokesman for the BUSD. That will give the community time to find out more about the program.

Maio expressed disappointment with the way BUSD has handled the process. The district should have been proactive and informed residents about the school instead of waiting for them to hear about it through the rumor mill, she said. This approach, which she said was the same way the district handled the move of the Adult School to the San Pablo site five years ago, makes it harder to reach consensus.

“People get concerned,” said Maio. “Rumors fly. They become very agitated and angry. It’s hard then to listen factually and consider.”

Maio had not even been informed, although the Adult School is in her district. She learned about the community school when she ran into Joaquin Rivera, a member of the Alameda County Board of Education, on the street.