Berkeley schools implement $2M safety plan

Berkeley High School, which has had reported incidents of guns on campus in the past, will, like all BUSD schools, benefit from new spending on safety improvements. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

When gun violence in the school’s neighborhood forced LeConte Elementary School to go on lockdown earlier this month, second grade teacher Pamela Diebel and her colleagues weren’t able to lock their own classrooms, and students in bathrooms and hallways missed the announcement on the loudspeaker. But the next campus in the district to go on lockdown may not face the same challenges.

The Berkeley Unified School District will immediately begin to implement a nearly $2 million school safety improvement plan approved by the school board to install new PA systems, increase the use of surveillance cameras, conduct armed intruder training for staff — and replace classroom locks so that the doors can be bolted from the inside.

“All of those improvements were ones we desired,” said Diebel. “I would’ve liked to be able to lock my door from inside.”

Prompted by the 2012 mass shooting that killed 20 children at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., the district last year hired two consultants, Edu-Safe Associates and Dimensions Unlimited, to visit all BUSD schools and assess their preparedness for violent intruders. The Board voted 2-1 to adopt some of the consultants’ recommendations Jan. 15.

The consultants identified several “obvious weaknesses” in campus safety, said Susan Craig, director of student services. Craig will oversee the staff training program in the spring.

Armed intruder training, developed shortly after the Columbine High School shooting massacre in 1999, “is nationally accepted and recommended these days,” Craig said.

BUSD schools already hold lockdown drills to prepare for intruders. “Where the armed intruder training takes it to the next step is preparing for something you hope you never have to use, which is, God forbid, if the armed intruder breaks through the barricade and gets into the room,” Craig said. “It’s training for how to respond to that, how to save lives.”

Facility improvements recommended in the safety audit reports will begin immediately and will be complete by the end of summer 2015, said Director of Facilities, Lew Jones.

Both consultants recommended the installation of comprehensive PA systems in all schools.

LeConte Elementary School was on lockdown today, Thursday Jan. 9. Photo: LeConte

LeConte Elementary School was put on lockdown earlier this month due to gunfire in the area. Photo: LeConte

“Every principal at each site visited in BUSD advised that their public address, warning and campus-wide communication systems were either nonexistent, not operating or deficient in some way. Administrators demonstrated that they could not cover the entire site with an emergency alert, a warning, or vital response information,” the Dimensions Unlimited report found.

The board also approved the increased use of surveillance cameras at the schools and the potential use of a live video feed during an incident, but the district will not move forward with the plan until the board develops a policy to address privacy concerns. Cameras were first installed in Berkeley schools with the caveat that the footage would only be used after an incident.

“If an armed intruder gets into Berkeley High School, it’s really an advantage to be able to broadcast to the entire community the exact location of an individual and what they’re doing,” Craig said. “We want to enhance our use of surveillance cameras but we want to make sure the privacy of students and staff is not invaded through continual monitoring.”

Although the use of a live feed is far from definite, some board members were adamant that there be guidelines in place that prevent its abuse should schools begin to use the feature.

“I understand the value in the case of an emergency to monitor what’s happening, but we also want to have very clear guidelines for when we’re not going to use that,” said Judy Appel, the BUSD board’s vice president. “Of course, the safety of our students is a paramount concern to the board, and we just want to make sure we’re doing that in the best way that protects our students all around.”

The nearly $2 million in safety improvements is financed by the $15,000 from the General Fund, $100,000 in Measure H funds and $1,220,000 from bond measures AA and I. The installation of interior locks in classrooms could add $500,000.

At $15,000, the armed intruder training is the least expensive piece of the plan.

The BUSD did not adopt all the recommendations made by the consultants, including a suggestion to station a police officer at each school. Currently, there is one police officer at Berkeley High but none on other campuses.

“It’s costly and we have safety officers that are Berkeley Unified staff,” Craig said. “They are not armed, they are not police officers, but they have a lot of training around deescalating incidents. We needed to prioritize what we felt would leverage our dollars to maximize the recommendations.”

There have been 137 fatal school shootings since 1980, according to the Edu-Safe report.

There have been no reported gun-related incidents within Berkeley schools since was a rash of them at Berkeley High School in 2011. On one day in February two students brought firearms onto campus, and on March 11 a gun was fired in a bathroom. A bullet went through the wall of a portable classroom but nobody was injured.

BUSD schools are put on lockdown multiple times each year, often in response to violence in the surrounding area. The LeConte lockdown, prompted by gun fire during an attempted robbery in the neighborhood, was the first of 2014. Berkeley High School went on lockdown in 2013 during a Shattuck Ave. robbery attempt, and held a lockdown safety drill in 2012 shortly after the Newtown shooting.

“Just as in most school districts, the schools in Berkeley are microcosms of the communities in which they exist. All of the advantages and disadvantages of the community are reflected on the various school campuses,” the Edu-Safe report said.

Area gunfire puts Berkeley’s LeConte school on lockdown (01.09.14)
After Newtown: Lockdown drill, vigil (12.19.12)
“Today seems like a day to hug our kids a little harder” (12.14.12)
Berkeley High students weigh in on guns issues at school (03.24.11)
Second gun found on Berkeley High campus in a day (03.22.11)
Gun shot fired at Berkeley High School, no injuries (03.22.11)
Another gun incident at Berkeley High School today (02.04.11)

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  • Woolsey

    Why not enforce against the illegal out-of-district transfers to Berkeley High. Bet that would cut the amount of guns on campus in half.

  • guest

    Cool, now if the teacher could just grade my kids essay that was turned in 3 months ago, that would be nice, but hey, what’s the rush. Today is just the last day of the semester.

  • bgal4

    Read the post incident report on Newtown, teachers were shot while locking the doors. Classroom doors must remain locked at all times to be effective. So again, the problem in Berkeley is how well staff is trained to understand and utilize the tools they are provided and the track record for training for emergencies and crisis management is quite poor.

    The claim no reports of guns since 2011 is false.

  • angry_moderate

    Open campuses invite crime. For BHS to be safe it has to be a closed campus.

  • Andrew D

    prudence is just fine, and I don’t particularly think this is money badly spent seeing as the state of much of facilities maintenance could use some work. But come on, preparing for a Newtown type incident is like preparing to win the lottery. It causes you to focus on the completely improbable. There are MANY things in our schools that deserve the attention of the district and the community more than this. As a not even particularly high on my list example: the federal funding that the district gardening program lost this year was…$1.9M

  • bgal4

    agreed, and I fought for a closed campus since 1999.

  • Rio Tardo

    BUSD does not care what the peanut gallery things. Please go about your business.

  • Inquiring Parent and Taxpayer

    I’ve got a kid in the Berkeley schools, yet I too hesitate here.

    Have the terrorists *won* when, presumably, thousands of school districts decide to spend billions of $ on security measures?

    I remember fire drills where I grew up, I’m cool with earthquake drills here, but do regular lock-down drills help or harm young people’s sense of security or trust?

    Those cameras may invade privacy, yet they may also catch student misbehavior. OK to use them or not?

    Would metal detectors at every entrance be more economical and efficient?

    Perhaps door locks and PA systems will have other benefits, protecting property and enabling clearer everyday announcements.

    I thought we had a School Board of five members. Why does a 2 – 1 vote enable $2 million of spending?

    Is this expense, in part, motivated by the possible liability for claims if BUSD does not implement enhanced security measures?

  • EK

    Please correct — it’s Pamela Diebel, not Pamela Deibel.

  • Berkeleyhighgrad

    bgal4 given that you were fighting for a closed campus in 1999 I think its safe to assume that you are not a Berkeley High student. As a recent graduate of Berkeley High, I believe safety is of utmost importance, however I also think that it is mainly an issue of over concern amongst parents and community members who do not go to the school, in all my time at Berkeley High I did not feel threatened once, even in my p.e classes. Almost everyone I talked too shared a similar sentiment as me. I credit you for caring about the safety and well being of the school, however I am going to have to respectfully disagree with your vision of a closed campus.

  • bgal4

    whatever, you clearly do not have access to the facts only your opinion.
    BTech is now a closed campus, students are doing better as is the community.

    Please provide some information as to how much time and money has been spent just this year by the city,police and school district resolving long term problems caused by truant kids in the surrounding blocks and downtown, sex, drugs and violence.

    Do you know which corner downtown hosts the majority of brawls between students during lunch? clue- check in w/ the ambassadors, including the youngest one a recent BHS grad.

  • Guest

    Physical threat isn’t the only kind of crime open campuses attract. Hanging out with the BHS kids in the clouds of pot smoke in the park across the street should be example enough.

  • Berkeleyhighgrad

    Money spent by Berkeley police securing shattuck is not a district expense. I speak from the perspective of a student who knows what goes on inside the school on a daily basis, rather than someone who gains insight from school board meetings. I just think a closed campus would not work.

  • bgal4

    I rarely attended a school board meeting in the ten years of advocacy. I am responsible for reestablishing the BHS Safety committee in 2000 and served on the committee through 2008. I was on campus most days after lunch making contact with truants 2000/01 at the request of the principal and Supt when the safety officers refused to do the job. The vast majority of students have little idea of what really goes on, how would they? they attend classes and only hear about or witness some of the big stuff that happens.
    The district is responsible for students off campus downtown at lunch.

    No need to argue, they is broad consensus among the officials on the need to close the campus, but as typical of Berkeley, change is extremely slow unless there are leaders who take charge. The new principal at BTech seems to be such a competent leader.

  • Berkeleyhighgrad

    I was on the Berkeley High safety committee for a day. Biggest joke, absolutely no student representation. People like you have big dreams but don’t take real student needs into account.

  • bgal4

    Your bashing of others after your minimal and inadequate effort makes your opinions not worth listening too IMHO. I worked closely with students in 2000-03–By-Ben-LumpkinDaily-Planet-Staff

    btw, my son, a real student, faced real not perceived injustice and discrimination by BHS admin. I know the score far better than you ever could imagine.

  • berkeleyhighgrad

    I’m sorry to hear that, I also struggled with admin many times. Back to my original thesis, students do not have any control over what happens in the school, it is all parents and community members. While you seem to be far more informed than most of them, many people believe they have enough knowledge of the school to create policy when in fact they are detached from what really happens at the school.

  • Mbfarrel

    If students “do not have any control over what happens in the school” are you saying that the problems are caused by outsiders? Then why not a closed campus?