Berkeley school board considers weapons safety report

Berkeley High: after recommendations on safety, the school board will come back with a detailed plan. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

While Berkeley High should tighten its perimeter, enlist its uniformed police officer to patrol its edges and nearby park, have its security officers wear identifiable uniforms, and teach students about the impact of guns, it should not require students to wear a visible identification badges and use them to get on and off campus – at least not yet.

There are still too many unresolved issues on how to implement the mechanics of closing the campus and requiring ID badges to move forward quickly, school board members decided Wednesday night. The board directed Superintendent Bill Huyett and his staff to more closely examine those items and return with a more detailed and workable plan.

“We don’t have to do this by fall,” said Board member John Selawsky. “I just want to see us working on it.”

Huyett agreed that rushing into a new set of requirements might not be the best idea.


“The devil is in the details,” said Huyett. “If we implement this too quickly without having more student input, I worry it will not be successful.”

Three months after Berkeley was rattled by a series of guns in its high schools, the school board on Wednesday night got its first chance to formally consider a set of eleven recommendations made by a committee set up to look at weapons on campus. School board members seemed pleased at the breadth of the recommendations made by the Ad Hoc Safety Committee, although some questioned how improvements could be quantified or if just focusing on weapons on campus was a broad enough approach to making the high school a safer place.

“Keeping the weapons off campus is something we can try to do, but just addressing physical safety will in the long run be more effective,” said Karen Hemphill, a board member.

The board agreed that using metal detectors on Berkeley High School’s 3,200 students would not be practical, that its school security officers should wear more identifiable uniforms, that the district come up with a gun education plan that BHS’ small schools can implement, and that the district work more closely with the Berkeley Police Department.

The board also agreed that the high school needs to enforce its existing visitors policy, which requires all visitors to wear visible ID badges and to check in with the front office before wandering on campus. The board approved a plan to create a physical mechanism, like a counter or a rope, to steer visitors to a centralized check in.

The board also liked the idea of having high school faculty and staff wear ID badges at all times as a way of setting an example for students. But the board was split on the practicality of requiring students to wear ID badges and the ways to enforce that policy.

Board members expressed concern about how to enforce this policy. They imagined scenarios in which students caught without their ID cards would be sent to the dean’s office to clear their transgressions. If only 2% of the students forget their IDs each day, that would mean 60 students would need a clearance,  said Pasquale Scuderi, the BHS principal.

“What are we going to do with the kids who left them at home?” said Selawsky. “Are they going to miss school because they don’t have their IDs?”

Hemphill said she supported the idea of having all the students wear ID badges, but was concerned with a plan that had them carry them and be ordered to produce them on demand. She said that may lead to safety officers singling out certain types of students, which would not be fair.

The board did agree that a crucial first step would be to require students to show their ID cards before attending a football game, a dance, or other school event.

The board was also unsure if the district should require students to show their ID badges when coming on or going off campus at any time after lunch.

The board did agree to spend as much as $269,000 a year to hire four new staff people to monitor Berkeley High’s entrances, continue to have 12 school safety officers and a uniformed police officer on campus five days a week, and pay for increased training for staff, among other measures.

Huyett will come back to the board in August with an action plan for the nine recommendations they did adopt, with more information on the other two later. He will also lay out a way to quantify the district’s progress and appoint a staff person to oversee the proposals.

Dave Peattie, a Berkeley High parent and one  of the members of the Ad Hoc Safety Committee, urged the school board to insist on accountability and transparency. In particular, he urged the school board to follow Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan’s recommendation to collect and analyze more data on students.