Student voices are missing from gun safety report

One of the inner courtyards at Berkeley High School

Some significant voices are missing in the 11-page report the Ad Hoc Safety Committee prepared on how to reduce guns in Berkeley high schools: that of the students.

While two Berkeley High students sat on the committee — at least until the end of the academic year — efforts to find out and understand why students brought guns into school did not go far.

Susan Craig, the director of student services for the Berkeley Unified School District, interviewed almost all of the six Berkeley students who were caught with guns and asked them why they brought weapons on campus. None of them were particularly forthcoming about their reasons, she told the safety committee.

The district also enlisted the aid of Pastor Michael McBride of BOCA, a faith-based  action committee, to hold focus groups with students to discuss guns on campus. While those conversations happened, McBride did not provide a summary of those discussions to the committee, despite repeated phone calls asking for the information by Craig and Superintendent Bill Huyett.


McBride was not paid for his efforts, but in late May the school district approved a  $15,0000 contract with Lifelines to Healing, an anti-violence mentoring program promoted by BOCA. (Note 7/1/11: McBride said BOCA will not benefit financially from this contract and is in fact, donating $10,000 to the overall project.)

A survey conducted by the safety consultant Al Bahn of Edu-Safe Associates only garnered one student response.

The result is a report that seeks to eliminate — or at least minimize — the presence of guns on the campuses, yet does not have any student insight as to why kids carry weapons in the first place.

The committee members are aware that the district has not yet heard sufficiently from students and plans to make a new effort to gather their opinions. The school board will review the report at its June 29th meeting.

“The District is concerned that the students’ voices related to guns and safety concerns have not been adequately heard,” the committee wrote in its “Next Steps” section of the safety report. The District will continue to work on receiving students’ input related to guns and safety and will explore the use of technology, including social networking, to increase communication with BUSD youth.”

One of the problems may have been the way the district was reaching out, Huyett said at the June 22 meeting of the committee. While many parents filled out online surveys, most students use Facebook more than email and were not inclined to an email request to fill out a form. The district will ask a number of key student leaders to post the survey on their Facebook pages and “invite” other students to fill it out in the hopes the survey will go viral.