After deadly Florida shooting, Berkeley principals reach out to parents

Berkeley High School, February 2018 Photo by Nancy Rubin
Berkeley High School and other BUSD campuses are preparing for the possibility of a school shooting. Photo: Nancy Rubin

Schools in Berkeley and around the country are reeling from news of a mass shooting that killed 17 people at a Florida high school Wednesday. In the wake of the tragedy, families are wondering how prepared their own schools are to respond to an active shooter or another intruder, and how educators are comforting their students this week.

The Berkeley Police Department has previously prepared for active shooter situations, including by conducting simulations at schools. Berkeley Unified has also adopted an approach to handling potential violent incidents. This week, some Berkeley school and district leaders have sent out messages to families describing steps the administrations are taking to prepare for such incidents. Berkeleyside is republishing three letters — sent to families of some of the youngest and oldest students in the BUSD system.

From Berkeley High School Principal Erin Schweng:

Good morning Berkeley High School Families,

We have all just spent time last night watching terrible and tragic events unfold in the wake of yet another school shooting in our country. It is important to me that you all know what that means for us at BHS who work with your children and are charged with keeping them safe.

As I write this, I am watching our students come to school this morning through my office window in pairs, groups and alone — some smiling and some looking more serious. For any school principal, the thought of someone hurting my students is at the same time unimaginable and yet must be imagined, because it must be prepared for.  We have long been preparing for two lockdown drills that will take place this semester.  One will happen during school hours, and one will happen either right before or right after school.  We know that even practicing a scenario in which there is an active shooter on campus is scary, and also that students have already asked today if and when we are going to do a drill, because they want to be ready.

We are working with some of our video production students to make videos for all of our students and staff to see some specific skills and actions they will need to take during our drill.  We are also working with our BPD School Resource Officer, who has specific training in active shooter protocols, to prepare in the most thorough way possible.

Additionally, you should know that we have a long-planned earthquake drill today during 5th period.  We will be holding in classrooms for a short period and then evacuating to our football and softball fields.  Teachers will take attendance and then we will head back into class.  While we know that any sort of evacuation may be anxiety-producing for staff and students, we also know that being unprepared for an earthquake is not an option given where we live, and we have been speaking with students on the morning announcements every day this week about our plan. I will communicate again with more details about our lockdown drills, and please know how seriously we feel the weight and responsibility of keeping safe each and every student you entrust to our care.

What I said to students in the morning announcements today:

“Good morning, students.  Thank you for your moment of silence just now and for your attention the next few minutes.  As we watched the terrible events in Florida unfold last night, I couldn’t help but notice that the high school there has almost exactly the same number of students as at Berkeley High.  It is horrific to imagine anything like that happening here, and yet we also know this is the 18th school shooting in 2018 alone.

So, while we never want to even think about having to face that kind of fear and panic, we also know how important it is to be ready.  We have already spoken with all staff about procedures we would follow in this sort of situation, and our safety staff and admin team have received training as well.  We have long been preparing for a school-wide lockdown drill, which will help us all know what to do in the case of an active shooter situation.  We will get you the information you need to be prepared for that drill, and then we will do it, and learn from it.  I believe that practicing even once will help alleviate the fear that many of us feel that comes from not knowing what to do, though I know that just practicing can be really scary. We will also practice a lockdown drill outside of school hours, such as right before or right after school.  As soon as the dates and times are set for those drills, we will let you know.

Our earthquake drill for today has long been planned, and I suspect that for some of you, that will cause some anxiety.  We need to proceed with our earthquake drill today, since that is another thing that we must be prepared for, living where we live – and we ask that all teachers and students take it seriously.”

From Thousand Oaks Elementary School Principal Jen Corn:

Dear Thousand Oaks Families,

Yesterday there was another tragic mass shooting, at a Florida high school.  The teachers and staff here at Thousand Oaks are all shaken by this news, and our hearts go out to the students, families and educators who are directly affected.

In the wake of this tragic event, I am revisiting all our safety procedures.

The protocol for responding to an armed intruder that we have adopted in Berkeley Unified is known as ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate).  The ALICE approach is to communicate clearly via loudspeaker in the event of an armed intruder, giving each teacher/staff person the information needed to make an informed decision about whether to lock down, evacuate, or prepare to counter an attacker (throw things at them, for example), depending on their location and the location of the intruder and the nearest available exits.  If the class can evacuate safely, that is the preferred response to an armed intruder on campus.  You can find out more about the ALICE research base and methodology here:

We have not discussed these protocols with students, as we believe it is developmentally appropriate to focus instead on preparing the adults to respond effectively if faced with a crisis.  I will be reviewing these procedures with staff in the near future.

The links below provide some valuable advice for you as you consider whether or how to discuss this event with your child(ren) over the weekend. We are not informing the children about the shooting today, but we are prepared to discuss it and provide any needed support to children and families. information/get-info/coping- with-disaster/helping- children-handle-disaster- related-anxiety tween-us/2012/12/talking-kids- tragedy-school-shooting-sandy-hook-elementary/
http://childdevelopmentinfo. com/parenting/talk-to-kids- media-violence.shtml

Lets all give our kids some extra hugs this weekend.

From Superintendent Donald Evans

Dear Community,

Our hearts are breaking, yet again, at the news of so many lives lost in a school shooting, this time in Parkland, Florida. In the midst of our shared sorrow, there is of course a great deal of concern about what can be done to prevent and respond to these repeated tragedies.

We want you to know that we were already in the midst of a review of our emergency plans, and Associate Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi has planned meetings with the Berkeley Police Department and key district staff to review and strengthen our site-protection and safety strategies, including our facilities protections and our armed intruder plan. A majority of our BUSD staff have already received training in armed intruder preparedness, using the ALICE protocol – Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. Each school site is required to hold regular fire, earthquake, and lockdown drills to provide students and staff practice with procedures.

As educators, entrusted with the well-being of all our students, we are deeply concerned that our society may adapt to this kind of violence as some kind of new normal. This is not normal, and we must speak out to change policies that allow access to weapons that can cause such devastation in our communities.

We also need to remember, and remind our children, that while one individual can do great harm, there are many more people who are helpers, responders, and caregivers. At the school in Florida there were so many students, teachers and staff who shielded and comforted each other, and that circle of protection and love extends to responders and community members who will be there to help with healing. Let us hold the Parkland community and all caregivers in our hearts as we rededicate ourselves to care for each other.

We have included below a few suggestions and resources for helping you and the children in your lives cope with the aftermath of this news. Some of the main points include:

Reassure your children that they are safe, that there are people who will look after them, and we have plans for emergencies.

Have an age-appropriate discussion about who they could go to if they feel unsafe.

Limit the exposure to television or internet reports of these events; with older students, discuss the need to maintain balance and perspective.

Maintain normal routines, including bedtime, as lack of sleep will amplify stress.

This story was updated after publication with the letter from Superintendent Donald Evans, which was sent to families Thursday afternoon.