More than a dozen people spoke out Wednesday night against cutting science labs at Berkeley High School, but the school board took no action on the controversial proposal.

Parents and students, though, did get to hear the thoughts of BHS principal Jim Slemp, who has been publicly silent in the last few months  — after he played a rousing speech by the late Martin Luther King.

“Our community at Berkeley High School has failed the African-Americans,” said Slemp, according to the Oakland Tribune. “We need to bring everybody up — that’s what this plan is about.”

Slemp has proposed shifting the funds that pay for before and after school science labs to classes that will help close the gaps between BHS’ African-American and other students. African-Americans perform significantly lower on math and English proficiency tests than students of other races. He has not detailed what those classes might be.

Slemp presented a proposal to the Berkeley High School Governance Council on December 8 to eliminate funds for four science teaching positions to pay for the new classes. He also wants to create advisories to give all BHS students a sort of “home base” at the school. The SGC adopted his plan. Slemp contends that the school board does not have to ratify the changes.

Parents opposed to the cuts in science contend that the SGC is itself out of compliance with the law. They also argue that equity should not be achieved by eliminating classes for high performing students but by improving those offered to those who do less well in school.

A former member of the SGC, Priscilla Myrick, has filed a complaint with the Alameda County District Attorney’s office complaining that the December 8 meeting where SGC approved Slemp’s plan met in violation of the state’s open meeting laws.

Myrick also quotes a section of the California Education Code that says councils like SGC must be equally split between staff and the community, which it is not. There are 20 teachers and staff, four students, and four parents.

The BUSD superintendent hinted earlier this week that a compromise plan would be presented, one that might preserve science labs for APand IB classes. That plan was not presented Wednesday night.

The school board will formally consider the plan in a few weeks.

For additional information, read the Tribune article or one in the Daily Californian.

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

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  1. No $$ is needed file a complaint with the CA AG office regarding Brown Act violations. Just suggesting I would file a complaint motivated the city to sunshine the Berkeley Alliance meetings.

    Parents threatened to file again when obstructionist Slemp refused to comply with SB 187 Safe Schools requirements. He even went so far as to order school security to remove parents from campus and block attendance to open meetings. Slemp was directed to apologize and abide by the Brown Act, but the tactics he used to undermine process have not changed, as demonstrated again at last week Safety committee meeting.

    For at least two years Slemp refused to allow district staff responsible for administering CHKS ( hired with state grant funds) onto campus. CHKS is student survey Lance reporting results regarding alcohol use during Spirit week.

    Fortunately the science labs controversy illuminated the corruption of site council process. For over a decade I have been wondering what kind of horrific catastrophe would force the board to action regarding the failures of school safety practices. Last night public comments by classified union rep were a good indication, reports of violence by special ed students against their instruction aides is being ignored by district officials. Again I experience a horrific irony; I have been reporting criminal activity on my block, including personal threats of violence by a home school special ed student. Both the city and schools agencies have been derelict in their duties.

    Safe school planning requirements include:
    Truancy intervention programs
    School crime
    Disaster preparedness

    School climate and culture are central to a positive supportive learning environment and attendance is critical to achievement. I know that BUSD K-12 principals have been discussing this and agree that best practice placing school climate reform front and center. Yet they are stuck, unable to provide leadership forward because in Berkeley racial and cultural relativism is an art form.

    Last night was an information item so no action was intended, however plenty of action did occur. The discussion was full of irony, and for those of us who fought the initial dismantling of lab science years ago when the board voted to divide the comprehensive program into small schools, it was particularly outrageous to hear CAS small school admin explain that the intended goals of advisory could be best met during core classes. This is what I argued many, many times and cited numerous models from other school districts who have demonstrated how to accomplish these goals without a parcel tax or dismantling lab science. Hemphill railed against the inequity that leaves regular science classes without a lab period. Yet that is exactly what the small school advocates who supported her election argued for and agreed to originally.

    The Supt suggested the AVID intervention program could be considered as an elective resource period for under proficient kids, DUH! We suggested AVID numerous times knowing full well the program’s record of success.

    While last night’s meeting seemed to suggest the board is finally providing oversight for BHS education it was also more evidence that the any NEW school tax measure will be a hard sell.

  2. Good for Ms. Myrick

    If you need any $$ assistance in bringing this fight, please feel free to Twitter me: JNGross