Berkeley High students weigh in on gun issues at school

Students at Berkeley High School do not necessarily agree with the views of their parents and the adult community at large when it comes to issues surrounding safety, security and guns on campus.

According to several students who have voiced their opinions on Berkeleyside, they believe guns are a fact of life at high schools, they nevertheless feel safe, and they are against measures such as metal detectors — which they say would make them feel as though they were all being treated as criminals.

Several defend the school’s principal, Pasquale Scuderi, who they believe is doing a good job in difficult circumstances, and they seem to think parents are over-reacting in their responses and need a “reality check” on what life at BHS is really like.

Our coverage of the gun incidents at Berkeley High School this week prompted a significant response from the community. At the time of writing, there have been a total of 142 comments left on the three stories we have published on the subject.


Many of the comments have been left by adults in the community and parents of students at Berkeley High who express emotions ranging from concern, anger and outrage. One commenter, named “Upset”, said:  “Two gun incidents in one day… Is the third time a charm? Get real BHS. How much longer are you betting on your luck?”

And Dan Alpert wrote: “I just read the principal’s e-mail. While I’m ranting, the weak tenor of the e-mail is infuriating. It sounds to me like the attitude is ‘ho-hum, all in a day’s work’ — where is the urgency to fix a system that clearly has majorly failed?”

Understandably, the questions raised by parents focus on the safety of the kids. They range from security measures and whether they need to be enhanced, whether on-campus safety staff are adequately qualified, staff accountability, whether out of district students or gangs are to blame for the presence of guns, and the disciplinary systems in place, especially whether the one-year mandatory expulsion is an adequate measure.

The student commenters, while clearly not representative in terms of numbers, seem to to be fairly sanguine about the status quo — whether through resignation, a defensive instinct or teenage bravado — or perhaps a little of all three.

Ramping up security, and in particular installing metal detectors — which have never been considered at BHS, although many parents in the comments advocate their use — is not seen as the solution by students.


BHS Student, a junior in the International Baccalaureate program, wrote: “Parents are frankly out of touch with what it’s like to be a student at Berkeley High – this is abundantly clear to me after seeing the amount of comments by parents demanding airport- or TSA-style security at BHS, complete with metal detectors and a locked campus… I don’t mean to sound like I’m oversimplifying this, but that’s just dumb.

“The policy we have at Berkeley High, an excellent one put in place by [former principal] Mr. Slemp, is to treat students like they are responsible and trustworthy – not like criminals. If BHS implemented the kind of new safety measures that certain parents are demanding, I can personally say… that I would feel less safe, not more. If I had to walk through a metal detector every morning on the way to class, I wouldn’t feel safe. If I was locked on campus during lunch, not allowed to leave the contained one-block radius that is Berkeley High, I wouldn’t feel safe. If every time I had to come through the gate, passing the security guard into the portables, I had to be verified as a BHS student – I would not feel safe. Berkeley High isn’t a penitentiary and its students shouldn’t be treated like we’re incarcerated.”

Steezy Sammy, a senior in the Academic Choice program, wrote: “We shouldn’t throw what little money we have at metal detectors and security checkpoints. The money would be better spent hiring more teachers to reduce the average class size.”

AnotherStudent wrote: I’m not sure how to solve this problem of guns on campus, but it won’t be solved by, as bhsstudent says, making my school a penitentiary. And, if you’re smart, there’s little problem avoiding the ‘rampant theft and robbery, gangs, and knives’ that are supposedly everywhere at BHS. I’ve been a student there for two years and the worst incident I’ve seen is a couple of fights (which, in my opinion, are nearly unavoidable).”

“To be honest, if they put in metal detectors and searched my back pack, it would really feel like the ghetto then,” wrote ThatOneGuy, a current senior.

ThatOneGuy also expressed compassion for the students who have been getting in trouble on campus. “Don’t condemn us to a life where one mistake can end your entire schooling career, but instead help us with a second chance and try to save us. People who bring a gun to school are the ones who need the help the most, not the majority who go through school without problems.”

In terms of solutions, Steezy Sammy had a constructive suggestion: “In my personal experience as a peer health educator, I find the most effective way to deliver children a message is through their peers. You parents know what I’m talking about, would your kid rather get condoms and talk about the birds and the bees with you or a trained peer educator? Therefore I think that violence prevention programs or small and private sessions with a faculty and a student volunteer would be the most realistic and effective way to deal with this issue, without compromising the effectiveness and applicability of our education.”

Kylie Grove-Peattie, a senior, believes good lines of communication are key: “Communication among students, faculty, and the administration is germane to the issues of violence at this school. I personally appreciate that Mr. Scuderi will be holding a series of meetings with students to talk about the severity of the situation when students carry guns. Although I’ve had my issues with BUSD, I’m extremely happy that I go to Berkeley High and I commend Principal Scuderi for communicating with the students.”


Finally, alarming though the recent news has been out of BHS, perhaps one can take some comfort from the fact that several students say they still feel safe there.

StudentAtBHS2 wrote: “Students having guns is unfortunate but I can honestly say I still feel safe. I feel no different then being in my own neighborhood when it is possible for someone off the street to jump me with a gun.”

Student Mr Mikey wrote: “You guys make Berkeley high seem like a battlefront where bullets and knives are an everyday thing. I am a student at Berkeley High, and I can assure you that is not the case. I’m almost a 100% positive that if interviewed, nearly 95% of students would agree that berkeley high is a fairly safe place.”

And BHSStudent, a junior in the IB program, said: “I don’t let out-of-proportion fear and panic dominate my life and interfere with my education.”