Tag Archives: Berkeley Unified School District


Deer jumps into Berkeley pool, disrupts kids’ swim class

Deer in King Middle School. Photo: Jeff Johnston
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A deer leapt into the King Middle School swimming pool Thursday morning, narrowly avoiding landing on young children taking a swimming lesson there, according to a pool staffer.

The deer ran across the pool deck and jumped into the deep end, said Jasper Solomon, a lifeguard at the pool, who said the children, around 3-6 years old, were attending a summer camp swim class. Solomon and his boss, Adonis Boyd, both leapt into action as soon as the fawn landed, he said. They asked everyone to leave the pool and then, using a lifejacket and a floater as buffers, they steered the animal to the shallow end. The fawn then scrambled out of the water and ran away.

Solomon said the incident surprised the kids, but that fortunately nobody was hurt. He described the deer as small and male, probably a fawn.

“The kids got a kick out of all the excitement!” Jeff Johnston, whose son was part of the swim class, wrote us.  … Continue reading »

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After initial stumble, police and schools aim to team up

Representatives from BUSD and the School Board — Superintendent Donald Evans, Susan Craig and Ty Alper — ask the community for feedback about its policy related to sharing information with police. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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It wasn’t exactly “Kumbaya,” but Monday night’s meeting between Berkeley residents, police and school officials was described by several in attendance as a significant step, and the culmination of more than a decade of grassroots work by parents and neighborhood activists.

The goal of the meeting was to begin to hash out how the Berkeley Unified School District will approach sharing information with the Berkeley Police Department to keep the community safe while also protecting the rights of those on campus.

The school district currently has no board policy to guide those decisions. Two members of the Berkeley School Board, Ty Alper and Josh Daniels, began trying to outline a policy earlier this year.

In May, when a draft version of the policy came to the attention of the Berkeley Police Department, sparks flew. Officers said at that time they felt the board’s approach looked like an attempt to block police efforts to solve crime, and prioritize the rights of those on campus suspected of committing crimes over the rights of victims. In several cases toward the end of the school year, police said teachers and the district refused to share important information with them about active cases, including a reported sexual assault involving students. … Continue reading »

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Petition to fire Berkeley teacher garners 500 signatures

yvette felarci featured
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A petition to oust a Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School teacher who was involved with a counter-protest against a white supremacist group in Sacramento has gathered more than 500 signatures

The middle school teacher’s involvement at the protest prompted threats of violence against students at King.

Yvette Felarca — the middle school teacher and a member of the group By Any Means Necessary, which says it’s “building a new civil rights movement” — was filmed in Sacramento on June 26 taunting and hitting a neo-Nazi attending a rally led by the Traditionalist Worker Party, a white nationalist extremist group. The violent altercation made headlines across the U.S. after seven people were stabbed and 10 hospitalized during the pandemonium.

Robert Jacobsen, a former student at King Middle School, launched a petition drive on Change.org after learning about Felarca’s involvement in the Sacramento altercation. The petition demands that the Berkeley Unified School District fire Felarca. It argues that citizens of the U.S., regardless of their political views have the right to free speech. Felarca’s interference with those rights are grounds for dismissal, according to the petition. Continue reading »

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Anonymous email threatens students at Berkeley school after Sacramento rally tied to local teacher

A police cruiser was parked outside Martin Luther King. Jr. Middle School on Monday. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Local and federal authorities investigated threats Monday targeting youth at a North Berkeley middle school by a group that demanded the termination of a teacher who protested against a neo-Nazi rally in Sacramento over the weekend.

The rally Sunday made national headlines due to violent clashes between the white supremacists who took out a permit to rally at the state capitol and the counter-protesters who showed up to confront them. According to some news reports, members of the counter-protest appear to have initiated the violence. The LA Times reported that seven people were stabbed and 10 hospitalized.

Read Berkeleyside’s July update.

One of the people who took responsibility for helping organize the counter-protest was Yvette Felarca, a teacher at North Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, at 1781 Rose St. Felarca is an organizer with the activist group By Any Means Necessary, which helped lead a series of Black Lives Matter protests in Berkeley in December 2014.

Parents of day campers were told Monday morning that one of the counter-protesters from Sacramento had been linked to the Berkeley school where the camps were located. The public outing had prompted an influx of emails to the principal demanding that the teacher be fired. … Continue reading »

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Blondies’ coming-of-age album addresses sexual assault

The Blondies lead singer Simon Lunche and lead guitarist Isaac Roth. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
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Bay Area rock band The Blondies have grown up together, working their way up from summer camp stages to venues like the Stork Club in Oakland and Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. The members, some freshly graduated from high school, are navigating the adult world, and it’s reflected in their music.

The Blondies released “Just Another Evening,” a self-described “coming of age album,” earlier this month. The title track is a comment on rape culture and the pervasiveness of sexual assault and harassment.

“Unfortunately, I see that kind of stuff going on around me all the time and I was really fed up with it,” said lead singer and songwriter Simon Lunche, who graduated from Berkeley High School this month.

The band members who are already in college were disturbed by the level of sexual assault and harassment on their campuses as well. The five members of The Blondies, all male, felt compelled to make a statement about it. … Continue reading »

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Hundreds hold vigil in Berkeley to remember Efe Ustenci

Saturday's vigil for Efe Ustenci drew hundreds of people. Photo: Ted Friedman
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Several hundred community members came together at Berkeley High School on Saturday evening to remember 17-year-old Efejon Ustenci, who drowned Wednesday in Placer County less than a week after he graduated from BHS.

The theme of the vigil, said photographer Ted Friedman, who attended the event on behalf of Berkeleyside, “was to ‘live Efe’s legacy.'”

One friend told Friedman that Efejon, known to many as Efe, would be remembered as someone who was nurturing, humorous and fair-minded. Others have described him as a natural leader looked up to by many, a talented athlete, and a kind and loving young man.

A fundraiser to help collect money for burial costs has raised more than $16,000 since it was created Friday evening.

Wrote Chris Young on the memorial page, “In my work with BIHS [Berkeley International High School] I see students names a lot and meet most of them as seniors. After visiting me once, I noted that Efe carried himself with maturity and kindness. At graduation he thanked me, though I hadn’t done much to directly serve him. Efejon Ustenci! His name jumps off my list of graduates. Yes, Efejon Ustenci. That’s that humble young man who stands out as a beautiful example of strong character for his peers and teachers. Surely, he will inspire us into the future.”

Several photographs from the memorial appear below. … Continue reading »

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Fundraiser, vigil planned for drowned Berkeley student

Efe is remembered as a talented athlete. Photo: Ustenci family
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The Berkeley Unified School District has announced a vigil and fundraiser for Efe Ustenci, who drowned earlier this week in Placer County while on a trip with friends.

The fundraiser to help pay for the 17-year-old’s burial costs has already raised more than $3,600 in approximately an hour. Its goal is $10,000.

A vigil at Berkeley High School has been planned for Saturday, June 25, from 5-6-30 p.m. in the courtyard. The school district had counselors on campus Friday to help offer support.

Wrote BHS Principal Sam Pasarow in the email about the vigil and fundraiser, sent Friday at 9 p.m.: “Please join us as we mourn the loss of Efejon Ustenci, and also celebrate his life.” … Continue reading »

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Recent Berkeley High grad, 17, dies in drowning

Efe Ustenci (attribution unknown)
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Update, June 24, 10:11 p.m. Read about the vigil and fundraiser that have been set up for Efe.

Original story, June 23, 2:07 p.m. The Berkeley community is mourning the tragic death Wednesday of Efejon Ustenci, who graduated with his Berkeley High School class less than a week ago.

Placer County sheriff’s office spokeswoman Dena Erwin said the 17-year-old, who lived in Berkeley, died in Long Lake. The lake is near Soda Springs, west of Lake Tahoe. She confirmed the teenager died from an apparent drowning and said his body has been recovered, but said no other information was immediately available because the coroner’s investigation is still underway.

Berkeley Unified School District spokesman Mark Coplan said mental health counseling services will be available at Berkeley High on Friday for anyone who needs to drop in for support.

Scroll down to the bottom of the story to read BHS Principal Sam Pasarow’s message to the community.

Efe had been planning to attend Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo in the fall, according to his Facebook page.

Friends mourned Efe’s death online.

Wrote Dante Ryan on Thursday morning: “I just heard seconds ago what happened, and I am mortified. I didn’t know you as deeply as I could have, but I did know what a beautiful soul you were. I was blessed to have class with you all 4 years of high school, and your positive attitude always brought the classroom up. You were always a unifying force. A smart, kind, accepting person. Always supportive of me and my dreams as I was you and yours. This is a sad morning.”  … Continue reading »

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Berkeley High alum embarks on abortion bill documentary

Berkeley director Maya Cueva (courtesy)
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“As a filmmaker, you have this unspoken responsibility to inform your audience,” says director and Berkeley High alum Maya Cueva. “You have to let people know what is happening in the world around them. Sometimes that’s good news, and sometimes it’s bad.”

Only two documentaries into her directing career, Cueva is on a mission to inform the masses. Her latest project, Undue Burden, is a six-part series highlighting the potential effects of the Texas abortion bill known as HB2. The bill is currently being assessed by the U.S. Supreme Court, but with only eight justices on the bench, the possibility of a tie doesn’t seem too far out of reach. As Texas and the rest of nation await a verdict, people for and against abortion are using this time to make cases for their positions.

Cueva, who is 22, was born and raised in Berkeley. She credits her high school teacher, Dharini Rasiah, for awakening her interest in film during media classes in Berkeley High’s small school, CAS [Communications Arts and Sciences]. Cueva said she discovered her passion for film while working with Rasiah, who encouraged her to apply to Ithaca College in New York. After receiving a scholarship to Ithaca, Cueva enrolled in its documentary studies program. She graduated with a bachelor’s in documentary studies in 2015 and, since then, has been living in Berkeley and working on her newest film.

See more from Berkeleyside’s “One to watch” series.

After winning a College Emmy for her first short documentary The Providerthe idea for Undue Burden followed. Cueva and her team started production in February, and they hope to return to Texas to finish the series once the Supreme Court makes its decision. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley High’s Ultimate Frisbee team turns out winners – and haikus

The BHS Ultimate Frisbee team playing at the USA Ultimate Western HS Championships on June 5, 2016. Photo: John King/  UltiPhotos.com.
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By Geoff Holton with Finn Collom and Elizabeth Wells

On the weekend of June 4th and 5th, Berkeley High School’s club Ultimate Frisbee team, the Berkeley High Coup, piled into vans and traveled to the USA Ultimate Western Regional Championships in Corvallis, Oregon. Conditions there were grueling — temperatures hovered near 100 degrees both afternoons – and tournament directors moved final matches on Saturday into the early evening in an unsuccessful attempt to beat the heat.

Led by a close-knit group of 14 seniors, and standout performances across the board, the Coup persevered, and went 4-2 on the weekend, making the finals against the defending champions, Roosevelt High School of Seattle. As they have all year, the Coup played with skill, spirit and speed in the final. They brought a deep roster, a balanced attack, great coaching and a positive, pumped-up sideline presence, but eventually fell to Roosevelt 13-10 in a physical, emotional match. … Continue reading »

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In short film, Berkeley High students talk race, diversity

BHIS video
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Berkeley International High School (BIHS), one of Berkeley High’s small schools, held its senior graduation Friday. While the ceremony was upbeat and celebratory, some students on stage brought up sensitive issues relating to the lack of diversity within the learning community. Earlier that day, Kian Broder Wang, a junior in BIHS, submitted to Berkeleyside the short documentary below — scroll down to watch it — that covers similar ground by talking to students of color and teachers about their experience at BIHS.

The video is timely, as Berkeley High School is considering a proposal to redesign its schedule and classes with a view to addressing some of these issues. During a conversation with Berkeleyside, members of the Design Review Committee, including BHS principal Sam Pasarow, expressed concern that certain learning communities in BHS are not diverse. There are few African-American students in BIHS and few Caucasians in AMPS, the Academy of Medicine and Public Service, members of the committee said. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley High may overhaul schedule, classes to address achievement gap

Berkeley High School. Photo: Nancy Rubin
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For the past ten months, a group of Berkeley High School administrators, teachers, staff, parents and students has been spending long hours brainstorming ways to reduce the school’s achievement gap.

While African-American and Latino students have made great strides in recent years, many are still not performing at the level of their white and Asian peers, according to school officials. And often they are not getting access to the kinds of classes and opportunities that could help them excel.

Consider these statistics:

The graduation rate for African-American and Latino students at Berkeley High is markedly higher than the rates for surrounding schools and the state, according to BUSD statistics. And they are going to college in large numbers. Eighty-five percent of the African-American students who graduated in 2013 were enrolled in college within two years of graduation; the rate for Hispanic and Latino students was 83.3%, according to Sam Pasarow, the BHS principal.

Yet white students are four more times likely to be in an advanced math class than African-American students, and seven times more likely to be in an AP science class than Latino students.

“There is still a fairly profound achievement gap,” said Tamara Friedman, one of the co-facilitators of the Berkeley High Design Team. “A value that is held in the school and the city is one of social justice. We feel we could do better.” … Continue reading »

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Fire department praises Berkeley High mass casualty drill

Mass casualty drill at Berkeley High School on June 1, 2016. Photo: BUSD/Mark Coplan
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A mass casualty incident drill that took place at Berkeley High Wednesday, and in which students participated, was deemed a great success and earned praise from the Berkeley Fire Department. “In many respects we could not have achieved the same level of training without this opportunity and it strengthens the readiness of responders in our community,” BFD wrote to the school after the exercise was finished.

The drill, which began at 1:30 p.m., allowed Berkeley Fire Department recruits and Berkeley High fire-science students to practice responding to a situation in which there were a range of injuries, from cuts and bruises to casualties. One of the school’s student clubs, the Emergency Response Teens (ERT), also participated in the event which simulated the aftermath of a roof collapse in the Donahue Gym.

Thirty drama students took part, several of whom had makeup applied that simulated injuries. They were also asked to “act out their injuries” in an effort to “confuse and challenge” the firefighter recruits. … Continue reading »

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