Students see security changes at Berkeley High School

Two signs direct visitors to enter at office door and students to proceed to A gate. Travis Dennis, an interim campus monitor, stands by the door to direct visitors. Photos: Frances Dinkelspiel

As Berkeley High students returned to school this week, they weren’t permitted to enter by the Allston Street door leading into the main office. Instead they were directed to a nearby gate.

“Visitors Entrance Only,” read the lettering on two new signs posted by the office. “Students Please Use the ‘A’ Gate.”

Five and a half months after two students discharged a gun in a portable bathroom, spooking students, parents, and administrators, change has come to Berkeley High. Access to the school now will be more closely monitored, school security officers will dress in uniform, there will be an increased police presence on campus, and students will be educated about the dangers of guns.

All of these items were part of the set of recommendations made in June by the Ad Hoc Safety Committee, a group of parents, teachers, and administrators that was given the task of determining how to improve safety in Berkeley schools. BUSD superintendent Bill Huyett appointed the group after six separate gun incidents in three months at Berkeley’s two high schools.

One of the main recommendations was to better control who was coming on and off the campus. This year, students will only be able to come onto campus by four doors. Visitors will be directed to go to the front office to sign in and get a visitors’ badge.

Vincent Trahon, or Coach T, sits by the A gate. Printed signs to inform students to enter there will be ready in a week.

To get a handle on all the traffic – Berkeley High has more than 3,200 students and hundreds of teachers and administrators – the district hired four campus monitors to help out the school’s 12 safety officers. The campus monitors will sit by the entrances during the day to check IDs, prevent students from leaving while school is in session, and direct visitors around.

On Thursday morning, two hours after school started, Victor Trahan, whom the students call Coach T since he coaches the basketball team, was sitting on a chair by the “A” gate. As tardy students tried to enter the campus, he asked for their ID, or ID numbers, or waved them in if he recognized them. There was a walkie talkie nearby in case he had to connect with other monitors or one of the school’s 12 safety officers. In about a five-minute period he talked to three students.

Visitors to Berkeley High must now stop at the front desk before entering the school. The district installed the crowd control rope to direct people to the desk and prevent them from just walking by

Trahan was wearing a red fleece Berkeley High vest, but, in about a week, he will be wearing a new uniform. After the spate of gun incidents, the Berkeley Police Department recommended that school safety officers wear uniforms. It would give the safety officers more authority and let police officers arriving on any scene identify them easily, they said.

The new uniforms have a large, round logo on the back of the garment with a picture of the high school. The front of each garment has the wearer’s name and the school they represent. Each safety officer will get a jacket, three polo shirts, and three long-sleeve shirts, according to Susan Craig, the director of student services.

The color of the uniforms will be different at each school, said Craig. The uniforms at B-Tech are brown and the ones at Berkeley High are either white or black. The campus monitors will wear maroon, she said. The middle schools will have other colors, including blue and green, she said.

The jackets cost about $100 each and were paid from the student safety discretionary fund, said Craig. The district worked with the unions this summer to come up with a design all could agree on.

Susan Craig, director of student services, holds up one of the new security staff uniforms

The safety officers “wanted to be visible, yet approachable,” said Craig. “They didn’t want something that said ‘School Security’ so that students wouldn’t approach them.”

Another major change for this school year is that the school district will report all robberies to the police, Craig told school and city officials at a “2 x 2 meeting” of city and school officials on Thursday morning. Previously, the district did not report robberies unless weapons or a sexual assault was involved. The school’s safety officers dealt with assailants through OCI, the On-Campus Intervention program.

In May, Berkeleyside reported on Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan’s frustration at the fact that the school was not reporting robberies.

That policy infuriated many parents, who felt the school district sometimes downplayed serious crime on campus. School safety officers often would identify culprits but focus on working with them to get on a better path rather than punishing them. When parents whose kids had been robbed or roughed up complained, they were often ostracized, making the victims of crime feel like they were being blamed.

“I am very happy that they have promised to report robberies to the police,” said Ginny Roemer, whose son was robbed last year at Berkeley High. Roemer filed a formal complaint against the district about the way the school investigated the incident. She wanted to know if the assailants were dangerous, but the district would not investigate whether they had any criminal records.

Roemer later found out one of the assailants had a warrant out for his arrest for committing another violent crime and the other robbed a different Berkeley High student right outside the school. “It’s the police who are able to investigate. They have the resources. They have access to the criminal records of the students.”

Laura Menard, a frequent critic of what she believes is the district’s tendency to worry more about the perpetrators than the victims, and turn away from dealing with violent culture, said reporting all robberies is long overdue.

“It’s gratifying that it’s finally happening because for all these years the victims of school-based crimes have faced discrimination,” said Menard. “We would go in there to meet with officials and would be further abused. The district didn’t want to admit it was discriminating against victims of crime.”

Read here for a list of all the recommendations made by the Ad Hoc Safety Committee.

Berkeley Principal takes action in wake of gun activity [03.28.11]
Berkeley High security officers play multiple roles [04.04.11]
Berkeley releases safety plan to reduce guns at school [04.05.11]
School safety committee issues safety report [06.24.11]
Student voices are missing from school safety report [06.27.11]
Berkeley school board considers weapons safety report [06.30.11]
Pasquale Scuderi on his first year as head of Berkeley High [07.07.11] 

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  • LKE

    Good News Indeed.  It is about time!!!  My son was robbed outside one of the middle schools last year by a perpetrator, (also a student) who had been robbing other kids all year (over 8 other robberies, not to mention vandalism to a teacher’s car) and had been suspended over fifteen times.  Although the staff at the middle school were wonderful, the BUSD administration was horrible in their direction/policy to staff at the time re not reporting to police.  Many of the child victims of these later robberies would not have likely occurred if BUSD had been cooperating & coordinating with the Berkeley Police.  It is a wonderful sign that this “no brainer” new policy is finally in place.

  • Charles_Siegel

    The new policy on reporting robberies shows that community pressure does work to change policy.  Berkeleyside deserves credit for raising the profile of this issue. 

  • Anonymous

    Good, but BUSD can and should do more.  Closing the campus was taken off the table because of the size of the BHS population.  

  • TracyM

    I stopped by the school today to go to the registrar’s office. A security officer outside of the administration building greeted me. When I passed through the main entrance, the rope barrier led me to the front desk to get my visitor badge. Even though I was only going across the hall, I needed a badge. I felt the visible presence of security is a very good step for the school. Thanks BHS and all of those who worked on these improvements. I am hopeful with this new program.

  • Sysaphis

    “Coach T” doesn’t appear to be wearing his new unif^h^h jacket.

  • Meliflaw

    As the article states: “Trahan was wearing a red fleece Berkeley High vest, but, in about a
    week, he will be wearing a new uniform.”

    By the way, it’s Allston Way, not Street. A good piece, though, and good news to hear that BUSD is now taking action instead of spewing rhetoric.

  • Ronin

    That brown color is gross.

  • Sysaphis

    It might be purple, Susan’s hair probably confused the white balance on the camera.

  • lauramenard

    Francis is being soft on BUSD, what they are guilty is far more egregious than just not being willing to acknowledge BHS student offenders on probation for prior criminal offenses,  the high school  refused to provide information to BPD during an investigation of criminal activity in this case, as they have for years and years.

  • Whenever I have read stories about safety officers at Berkeley, any photos have only shown male safety officers. I am curious. Are there are female safety officers at Berkeley High or any other Berkeley schools?

  • Is it possible to cite the source of the data you present, BerkeleyAccountableSchools? You state, presenting some data as incontrovertible fact, that the BHS student body  is 16-40% larger than the population of children of that age living in Berkeley. Then you make a statement about enrollment fraud.

    I would like to know where you get your purported facts.

    And I would like to know if you are aware that it is not enrollment fraud for students who live outside of Berkeley to enroll at BHS.  I don’t know how cross-district enrollment works in this part of the world but it is my understanding that it is legal for students to enroll in schools outside of the districts the students live in. There are proper procedures to enroll in BHS if a student lives outside of Berkeley but it is not necessarily fraudulent to have students at BHS who live outside of Berkeley.

    Plus, your “facts” are pretty fuzzy. There is a big difference between sixteen percent of the student body and forty percent.  I think your statements are absurd. If your claim is based on hard data, I doubt if there would be such a guestimate — the different between 16% and 40% is gigantic, that just doesn’t sound factual. It sounds wildly speculative. So could you please share your data sources?

  • lauramenard

    Community pressure which takes persistence lasting a decade and the willingness  to do unpaid difficult work in conditions of  tremendous resistance and the ability to utilize every available resource, ally, media strategy, best practice, legal code and latest injustice.

    For instance:  two opportunities  for community dialog facilitated by the Dept of Justice Community   Relations division requested by parents with lead Laura M

    dismissed by public officials:
    2002- Supt Lawrence
    2005- Mayor Bates

  • Ginnyroemer

    Thanks for this article Francis Dinkelspiel!  The information has to get out so that parents know what they should expect. 
    Now, if your child is robbed at Berkeley High school by another student, you can go to OCI office to report the incident and to see that the school’s safety officers (and therefore the school and BUSD) are apprised of the situation and that they are following up with the stated policy to refer the matter and investigation to the police.
    BUT!  IT IS ALSO YOUR RESPONSIBLITY TO GO TO THE POLICE AND MAKE CERTAIN A POLICE REPORT IS MADE OUT.  In all likelihood one of the school’s  SRO’s (Berkeley Police Department “Safety Resource Officers”) will be the Police Officer doing the investigation and the follow up regarding your child’s robbery. The good news here is that the police can find out and can tell you if the student who robbed your son is dangerous and you can react accordingly. The school’s safety officers DO NOT have this same ability, or intention, as they are trained and instructed that juvenile privacy rights under the Education Code prevent them from sharing information of any prior offenses that the student who has robbed your child may have committed.  This is/was hard to understand but these safety officers have a very high tolerance for what they think constitutes “danger” and they have great empathy for the student being shoved toward the criminal justice system.
    Don’t let that deny you your parental right use your own best judgment about how to keep you child safe. To do that you need the information.  If the student who robbed you child is arrested you can contact the District Attorney’s office and they afford you full victim rights in the process of proceeding with the complaint.  They can tell you everything you need to know to keep your child safe.  The school may be willing to work with you to but the District alone determines suspension and/or expulsion and they are still required to educate all students.
    None if this is fun.  It is scary, disruptive and upsetting.  But it is important to keep our school safe. IT IS HUGE IN THE PREVENTION OF CRIME. Also, in my opinion, the time to teach your child to stand up for him/herself is best done at this stage and not at the scene of the robbery, where conflict can escalate to unintended consequences.
    Most of the kids who have committed these offenses are not bad kids and none of them are “criminals.”  That is why the state affords them the juvenile protections that they do. 

  • lauramenard

    As Ginny and so many other parents have learned knowing where to find help reduces anxiety and supports due process rights. Which was the reason why n 2003 parents created the Incident Reporting guide in partnership with BPD/BUSD. This resource was buried and needs to be  unearthed and updated,  which would only serve to develop mutual trust between the district and those they serve.

  • Heather W.

    Ginny, thank you for that detailed response. It is important for parents to know that relying on the schools in these instances isn’t always enough. Let’s hope this new rule helps keep other kids from the continued fear and intimidation yours has gone through. Good job! 

  • Former BHS parent/guardian

    Good article, except that one fact is not correct.  The article and part of the photo caption state that “[v]isitors to Berkeley High must now stop at the front desk before entering the school.”

    I volunteered at the front desk (pictured above) during the 2009-2010 academic year, and we were *already* requiring every single visitor entering campus to sign in and out at the front desk and receive a visitor’s badge.  (It’s true that it was possible to enter the Registrar’s office without having to pass by our desk, but that would have been the only location for which that was true.)

  • Goodkind

    Thank you for this good article Frances. I hope you will be vigilant in following up on it and seeing if these things, many of which have been demanded, begged for etc. for upwards of 8 years, will actually come to fruition. This will be a good story to follow all year. I certainly hope for the best from Principal Scuderi but no one should be surprised by a certain degree of skepticism in the community. Nonetheless, we all hope for the best…I hope.

  • skeptic

    Visitors were required to sign in and wear badges before 2009. 

    The District ad Hoc committee recommendations did not INCLUDE this most significant change discussed in this piece, the policy/practice change referring all  violent crime to law enforcement. This change may very well prove to decrease guns on campus more effectively than the rest of the list entirely, and did not require spending a dime.

    This change represent a change in political will, likely because it is hard to continue to pretend violent crime is NOT dangerous.

    A change that aligns with the requirements of federal grant funds the district has already spent.

    Isn’t the WASC review coming up, and there is always the CPM, state compliance review. I used the CPM process to a resistant district provide the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) results for community review and to develop the BUSD parent student handbook.

    When Scuderi and Huyett held community forums asking us what traits we would like to see in a new principal after Huyett assisted Slemp with his departure I stated


    Principal Scuderi’s  change in tone  and content in his administrative messages out to the community  is a good sign.

    An apology from the current Supt and Board  to those of us who fought for school safety reforms would be a step toward truth and reconciliation.

    I informed Francis about the 2×2 meeting, she like most people did not know anything about the city/schools committee. Using the 3 minutes public comment at 2×2 meeting is one part of  the strategy parent allies have used to move public officials to take responsible for these issues. 

    See one of the first articles back in 2001:

  • skeptic

    again, the option to edit would help me since I make so many mistakes typing directly in the box.

    Edit should read :

    CPM process to FORCE a resistant district

  • laura

    Panel goal is to tackle BHS violence issue

    By Ben Lumpkin
    Daily Planet Staff

    Friday March 16, 2001

    A joint committee of city and school district leaders
    vowed to get tough on violence at Berkeley High School Thursday after
    hearing a student paint a grim portrait of life at the school. “Berkeley
    High is a great school but it’s being run into the ground by (a
    violent) element,” Berkeley High student Varun Paul told the “2 x 2”
    committee, which includes Mayor Shirley Dean, City Councilmember Linda
    Maio, City Manager Weldon Rucker, Board of Education President Terry
    Doran and Board of Education Vice-president Shirley Issel. Paul said he had witnessed attacks on students and teachers and had been attacked himself in the hallways of BHS. “If
    you were to go there I think you would be shocked,” Paul said. “There
    are areas of the school where it is just extremely, extremely
    hazardous.” “It’s a culture full of retaliatory violence,” said
    Laura Menard, the parent of a Berkeley High student. She said she tells
    her son to “watch his back” when she drops him off at school each
    morning. “You have to move in and create real enforcement,” Menard said.  The
    committee adopted a proposal by Menard Thursday to appoint a task force
    to come up with recommendations for reducing the number of violent
    incidents on campus. Dean said she hoped the task force would deal quickly with problems on the BHS campus today. “This
    time it gets taken care of,” Dean said. “I don’t ever want to hear
    about students getting beaten up at Berkeley High anymore. Meanwhile,
    students leaving Berkeley High Thursday, minutes after the committee
    meeting, reported seeing a fight in the C Building where one girl was
    lead away with her face “busted up.” Fights on campus – notably fights between  girls
    – are a regular occurrence, the students said, and not something that
    can be easily prevented by the school’s teachers or security staff. “I don’t think they could stop it if they wanted to,” said sophomore Myron Seals. “If kids want fight they’re going fight.” Students
    underscored that those who picked fights were not part of a small
    clique. They said it was a general phenomena. Some said they believed as
    many as one-third of the school’s students might be involved in the
    fighting, which they said often stems from regional rivalries and
    friction between ethnic groups. Asked if he felt unsafe at
    Berkeley High, sophomore Rocky Garcia said : “I don’t really let myself
    feel uncomfortable. It’s kind of like wolves: If they smell fear they’re
    gonna call you on it.” Issel said the school district has
    implemented a number of initiatives to deal with violence at Berkeley
    High over the years but needs to step up its efforts in light of the
    stories told by Paul and others. “There’s something going on here that’s impacting our kids in ways that are very troubling to them and to us.” Doran
    agreed. The problem of violence at Berkeley High “is serious and it
    hasn’t been dealt with effectively and successfully in a long time,”
    Doran said.  But Doran warned that there is a gulf between asking for more stringent rule enforcement and getting it.  “What
    happens is the staff get overwhelmed and retreat to their classrooms
    because they feel their first commitment is to (the students there),”
    Doran said, referring to the high numbers of students out of class at
    any given moment at Berkeley High, a factor many agreed provides
    opportunities for misbehavior. Berkeley Unified School District
    Interim Superintendent Stephen Goldstone said the success of the
    proposed task force would depend on setting a firm time line for
    implementing its recommendations, and then making sure the city and
    school board defend the new measures if they should come under fire by
    unhappy Berkeley High parents. Others warned that the only way to
    protect new measures from coming under attack was to create an
    inclusive process for addressing the violence from the get go. Maio said, “We don’t want to be in the position where we hear shouts from the community that this is racist.”  Unless
    the task force involves all the different segments of the community
    working together in partnership “we’re not going to get anywhere at
    all,” Maio said. Dean said the task force should include members
    of the 2 x 2 committee, students, police, parents and perhaps some
    mental health experts. Doran said it is important not to view
    more stringent enforcement of rules as a panacea for changing the
    environment at Berkeley High. Administrators should also consider how to
    reorganize academic programs at Berkeley High to relieve pressures that
    drive students to violence, he said. The sheer size of the
    campus leads to feelings of “alienation and anonymity” by students,
    Doran said, adding that the board is considering plans to implement
    additional “small learning” communities at Berkeley High to give more
    students a sense of belonging.  Rucker supported the creation of a
    task force Thursday but said it would be better to deal with problems
    such as those described by Paul as they occur rather than in a committee
    meeting after the fact. “Why don’t we communicate better as
    responsible adults that we have some problems?” Rucker asked. “If
    someone is violating the law, then we need to enforce the law. Somebody
    needs to be observing this and reporting this at a much earlier stage.”  Paul
    told the committee he warned school staff that out-of-town students in
    Berkeley for last week’s affirmative action protest were planning a
    “raid” on Berkeley High to start fights. His warnings went unheeded, he
    said. Berkeley Police Sergeant Steve Odom said police had known
    about the threat for days and did all they could to prevent it. Police
    anticipate such incidents and have a game plan for when they occur, he
    said.  “The first thing we do is share the information with the school,” he said. Last
    week, Berkeley Police stationed additional officers around Berkeley
    High on streets the out-of-town students would likely traverse to get to
    the school, Odom said. They tried to be in all the places where large
    groups of Berkeley High students and students from the rival school
    might encounter one another. “The things that were done were the right things,” Odom said. “I really believe we prevented a lot of things from happening.” 

  • Goodkind

    The BHS community received an email from Principal Scuderi stating concern about egging freshmen: “Given the context and some of the unsavory ritual hazing we are working to eliminate, students who are carrying eggs, driving on the perimeter with eggs, carrying eggs on campus, holding eggs for friends, etc, will all be subject to our five-day suspension policy. ”

    I look forward to receiving a similar email stating the school’s new policy about violent crime. I consider being thrown against a locker and having a phone stolen to be at least as egregious an act, even though in the past the school cared more about eggs than it did about theft and physical threats.

    “School safety officers often would identify culprits but focus on working with them to get on a better path rather than punishing them.” It will be interesting and important to report on whether theft and violent crime that does not involve eggs will be treated with as much seriousness and severity. This remains to be seen.

    Have the OCI staff received new training? Is there a new policy in place? Will there a be any suspensions for those who steal? Unless we missed something, the school community has not been informed about the changes being made as per this article. 

    Ginny Roemer’s instructions about dealing with crime, if they are indeed correct and true,  should be sent to all the BHS community by the principal in a similar email. Until this happens I remain skeptical that the school plans to enforce anything. But as I said before, I also remain hopeful.

  • laura

    1. OCI and admin received training regarding referral to BPD for robberies.
    2. The handling of thefts should also be reviewed, specifically the use of legal searches in the classroom when a student report a theft during class. Theft will still be handled internally by BHS, which means that even grand theft if investigated and offender is caught, the sanctions will be imposed under the school discipline code and not the penal code.
    3. Incident reporting guide solves the  requirement to inform the pubic correctly.

    The only change in responding to  campus crime is that robbery is identified as a violent crime, not a bullying incident under school discipline rules, but as a part 1 violent crime as per penal code definition, as per state/federal reporting requirements.

    Most school districts in the state of California train staff in responding to school based crime as directed by the county district attorney’s office.

    The CA state legislature is currently discussing a bill regarding these issues of school/law enforcement partnership and K-12 campus crime.

    The federal law, the Cleary Act, resolved many of the conflicts between the rights of students and under-reporting of campus crime.

    The BHS safety committee parents, on the whole, are now sufficiently informed to understand these distinctions,  however, if that committee is still controlled by staff and not free to make proper recommendations, our work towards these reforms will not be sustained. There is also the threat that  the politics or manoeuvrings of the site council could undermines these changes.

    Principal Scuderi leadership is key,  he will have to include oversight and monitoring of OCI processes into his already overwhelming job of shoring up curricular and teaching supervision.

    The district tech dept should be able to assist with the development of  campus crime reporting databases separated from student education records in power school.

    None of this is difficult, if the political will to change is sincere.

    Where is the PTSA in protecting students rights? 

  • Anonymous

    Yes, see the link in my original comment, where I’ve published the
    data and links to the publicly available sources.  Did you really not read itbefore posting, even though I specifically said that the claims aredocumented on my website and provided a link?

    The range is wide because of specific “known unknowns” that are also
    disclosed there.

    The lower bound represents the case in which every Berkeley child
    attends public school in Berkeley. You know that’s not the case, since
    Berkeley has about 800 private high school enrollments within its
    borders, and residents also enroll outside of Berkeley, at CPS, Head
    Royce, Bentley, and others.

    The upper bound represents the case in which there is an equilibrium
    between the number of  Berkeley residents who attend a private high
    school outside the city and the number of non-residents who attend a
    private high school inside the city.   If the outflow is greater than
    the inflow, then the upper bound actually increases.  If inflow exceeds outflow,then the number steps down until we reach the lower bound casethat I’ve already explained.In sum, the real number is very likely closer to the higher figure, sincethere are very obviously Berkeley kids who attend non-Berkeley privateschools.

    Also on the site are a number of specific anecdotes about the scope of
    the problem, which I encourage you to read. These are the experiences
    of your neighbors and they deserve to be heard.

    Legal transfers into BHS do happen, but not on this scale. Also, one
    person wrote to tell me how even that process is scammed.

    If you have specific data for a counterpoint, I’d be glad to learn
    about it. I’m not happy about finding fraud on this scale and yet can
    find no other credible explanation for the gap in evidence.Everyone I’ve spoken to about this problem knows that it is happening,but they are stunned at the extent of the abuse.  I’m curious to knowyour reaction after you’ve reviewed the data that I originally provided.

    PS Sorry for the delay in responding — was away for the long weekend. During that time, several other Berkeleyside readers have looked at the data and posted supportive messages. I hope you’ll join us in pressing BUSD to fix this serious problem.

  • Bruce Love

    Hi, BerkeleyAccountableSchools.

    At a quick glance, you appear not to have “reconciled” the census count for Berkeley with the way a count based on eligibility to enroll would count Berkeley.   This is a fancy way to say you’re comparing apples to oranges in a way that undermines pretty much all your conclusions.   It’s a subtle problem that’s hard to explain.  I’ll try, briefly.  I got stuck on exactly this point crunching roughly the same data so if you see some fix I missed, let’s hear it.


    There are two separate legal questions of interest:

    a) When does a kid count as a Berkeley resident for the purposes of the census?

    b) When does a kid count as a Berkeley resident for the purposes of school enrollment?

    The answer to (a) is determined by federal law.   The answer to (b) is determined by state law.   The laws are very different and so casual comparisons of the count are problematic.   If you think “Well, they must be pretty close,” well, that’s not so clear:

    If you look at the differences between (b) and (a) — one thing you can notice is that eligibility to enroll in a district (as a resident, not a transfer) is at least in theory a much broader category.   It’s pretty easy to construct scenarios where a student is legally a resident for school enrollment purposes, but not for census purposes.   For example, that “enrolling from grandma’s address” stuff that people talk about is not necessarily in every case unlawful – and it can wind up with the school and the census placing the kid in different cities.

    This doesn’t mean that you’re wrong, only that you haven’t proved or much advanced your case with your numbers, because of that nasty apples and oranges problem.  If you find that there seem to be students who are enrolled, but not accounted for by the census … you still haven’t shown anything about the probability that they are unlawfully enrolled.    To show that, you would need some way to reconcile the school counts with the census counts.  I couldn’t figure out how to properly do that and none of the experts I asked had any idea either.


    When reconciling the school and census counts, you must also look at the very, very different ways in which they are collected.   The school count requires someone to go and actually register the student.  The census count relies on people mailing in forms voluntarily or answering the folks who knock on the door.

    Those two techniques of counting can easily lead to different results.   The schools are very unlikely to undercount the number of enrolled students.   The census is practically guaranteed to undercount the number of student-age residents – then has to try to guesstimate reality.    The two counts are in different units of measurement.   You need a convincing theory of how to convert between them before you can make the argument you are trying to make.  You need to reconcile the two datasets, which you have not done.


    There is a potentially simple to get a proper approximation of the number you are trying to discover in the charts and tables:  an experiment.   Instead of starting from a conclusion hung on anecdotes and dubious statistics, start from the statistics and advocate for an experiment:

    The experiment would require funding and oversight and cooperation of the district.   It would go:  Randomly select a sub-population of students.  Verify their enrollment eligibility.  Find an estimate of the rate of unlawful enrollment.

    I don’t think you can make a logically and mathematically persuasive argument from the census numbers (though you can probably rile emotions).


    Given the flexibility of enrollment eligibility law, combined with the different rules if the census, there is an alternative hypothesis to your theory of massive over-enrollment.  The alternative theory is simply that Berkeley schools are very popular and that a greater percentage of the eligible enrollees take advantage of them than happens in other places nearby.   That would explain the comparative spikes in secondary schools that you see. 

  • Anonymous

    Hi Bruce/Thomas,

    Sorry, this is a clear case of “when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.”  That is, there’s no need to reach for exotic explanations when ordinary ones will do.  If you don’t know people who are actively perpetrating enrollment fraud, then you probably don’t know many BHS families. 

    On your first and second points, I do indeed discuss the problem of census undercounts, a well understand demographic problem.  And as I clearly say, the maximum credible adjustment for that is 5% The state itself only claimed 4% in its complaint to the Census Bureau.  See where they refer to using state DoE numbers to plead the case that California has 1.5 million more people than the Census found.  So, to use your apples-to-apples language, the state cited its own enrollment figures as part of a 4% undercount claim and I am also using state enrollment figures, but I offer the possibility of a full 5% undercount because it was the largest credible figure I could find.  And still, the gap remains.

    Is Berkeley an undercounted area?  I doubt it — census takers were doggedly persistent in my neighborhood, which is easy to do when housing is as dense as it is.  But on the chance that it is, I offered the maximum reasonable figure — greater event than the figure the state itself put forth — to account for it, and STILL, one of every three BHS students doesn’t belong there.

    Your third point isn’t a critique or counterpoint so much as it is an argument for a different method, the classic Berkeley response of “let’s form a committee and spend time and money to study the problem.”  I would point out two things:

    1. I’m using data that we have available now and the gap is enormous.  Census undercounts cannot close it.
    2. We don’t need laser targeting on the numbers here — just hitting the side of the barn is enough because even if you tie yourself in knots to explain away as many kids as you can, there are still hundreds more whose presence you can’t explain.

    Your fourth “alternative theory” is just not worth serious attention, Bruce.   Occam’s Razor cuts it to ribbons and even if it didn’t, there’d be the little question of why the other neighboring districts are cracking down on illegal enrollment if everybody is, as you suggest, crossing over legitimately. 

  • Bruce Love

    BerkeleyAccountableSchools —

    Your undercounts answer (sorry, missed it on the web site) repeats the same mistake.   A purported undercount of the entire population of the state does not translate in a trivial way to an estimate of undercount for high school age Berkeleyans.   For example, there is no a priori reason to believe that an overall undercount is evenly distributed among all age groups.    Or that its evenly distributed among cities or within regions.   Census counts are a pretty crude instrument. 

    You go on to use arguments like “Is Berkeley an undercounted area?  I doubt it.”.  Well, apparently you do doubt it but so but so what?  Why should I or anyone else?  You mentioned seeing census takers in your neighborhood and think that supports your opinion.  In my neighborhood, I’m just about certain the census takers undercounted, based on my conversations with them.

    You’re trying to raise some alarm about an amazingly high degree of unlawful enrollment with some anecdotes and some fallacious statistical reasoning.   The anecdotes (and the political climate) might merit some empirical investigation but the fallacious use of statistics can only fuel emotions and confusion.   (And, as I said, I made a similar mistake earlier … I’m reporting to you what I found out  digging into it.)

    You might be right that unlawful enrollment is such a big problem — but your use of statistics doesn’t add up so far.   The empirical test — which would combine legal examination of real world cases with a proper sample set – is the simplest and cheapest way I can think of to find out if the unlawful enrollment program is anywhere near as large as some folks claim it is.

  • Thanks for all the information, BerkeleyAccountableSchools!
    You’ve raised a lot of good points.

    Don’t waste your time fighting with the pedants. No matter what you say, some people are just going to keep defending the BUSD’s lack of transparency and refusal to verify student residency no matter what.

  • Laura, if you make an account with Disqus and use it to post here, it will allow you to go back and edit your posts.

  • laura

    Thanks, nice.

  • Goodkind

    Technical FYI to Lance, Tracy et al – this story seems to lack a Berkeley High School tag. At least it doesn’t show up when you hit the BHS tag in the cloud below. Thanks for giving us a really good local newsblog.