A Berkeley High safety officer stands by a gate before the start of classess, part of a series of measures to reduce the number of guns on campus. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

In a small conference room on the second floor of old City Hall, a group of school administrators, parents, students, police and safety officers have met regularly over the past nine weeks to debate how to tackle the issue of guns at Berkeley High.

They have talked about the colors gang members wear – and whether gangs pose an issue at the school. They have argued about whether to close the campus, and how a cafeteria equipped to hold 500 would serve 3,200 students a day. They have talked about making school security officers more identifiable, how to encourage students to wear ID badges, and how teaching students about the dangers of guns might be critical to stopping the presence of weapons on campus. They have agreed that metal detectors just won’t work.

Thursday is the last day of school at Berkeley High and on Friday more than 800 seniors will walk across the stage at the Greek Theater to receive their diplomas. As the school year winds down, the group, known as the Ad Hoc Safety Committee, is working hard to complete its discussions. On June 22, the committee will review a draft of its recommendations, with plans to present the plan to the Berkeley Unified school board on June 29.

After seven students were caught with guns at Berkeley High and B-Tech in the first three months of 2011, the district took a number of steps to try and improve security at the high school. They hired more safety officers for BHS, increased the days a Berkeley police officer is on campus from four to five, closed some gates on campus, and held a number of forums with students about the danger of guns. One of the major steps – and one with the highest PR value – was the creation of a committee that would bore down into difficult topics and come up with a set of recommendations.

But what is seen as the slow pace of the committee, its high turnover, and perceived lack of organization has frustrated some of its members – as well as some board members and the public.  The issue came to a head on May 25, when BUSD board member Karen Hemphill complained at a school board meeting about what she characterized as the drift of the committee, a claim that Superintendent Bill Huyett denied.

“The community was looking for a plan, immediate steps, and I meant this year or as soon as possible,” said Hemphill, according to the Oakland Tribune. “Our safety committee we formed is saying attendance is poor, the group is adrift. There are number of issues being raised by members.”

Huyett called that statement “political,” according to the Tribune.

“I want Berkeley to hear this,” said Huyett. “If we want to solve the problem, we need to be engaged. The district has responded exceptionally well. If they think the committee is drifting, let them say that in committee. We have done exactly what we were asked to do: come up with a plan by the end of the year and form a committee and give you updates every other week.”

The Ad Hoc Safety Committee has consulted with a number of professionals about how to reduce the number of guns on campus, including a school security expert and groups that address bullying. It has also reached out to other school districts to learn their approach to the problem. The bulk of the work, however, has been done by the committee itself. It has taken time for the committee to find its focus, but it has vastly improved in recent weeks, according to one member who asked not to be named.

Huyett and his staff will be writing up the set of recommendations to present to the school board, but made it clear Wednesday that the committee is only advisory. Huyett’s recommendations will be the ones presented to the school board.

“This is an advisory committee,” Huyett told the group. “Susan (Craig, director of Student Services) and I are taking in your advice. We will come back with what is a reflection of your advice and what the administration thinks it should do.”

But Huyett added he is in agreement with what the committee has suggested and doesn’t think there will be the need to present a dissenting, minority report.

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. The most critical issue related to the latest safety crisis “guns
    on campus” exposes BUSD policy as inadequate to the task at hand. How
    does BHS staff respond when they receive a credible tip a student is carrying a

    Current district policy does not allow safety officers to use restraints
    during a search and seizure operation even when there is good information of a student
    carrying a firearm.

    Recently BPD trained BHS school safety officers and administrators
    demonstrating the safest methods for removing a weapon from a person. Unfortunately
    due to the district’s adherence to this problematic policy the benefits from
    the valuable training will be lost.


    Everyone in this community should be concerned and demand an explanation.
    Don’t allow the usual double talk to confuse issues, demand the board publicly discuss
    the protocols and procedures employees responsible for school safety are
    required to follow.


     Months ago we heard school staff
    dismiss our outrage confusing the security failures with statements about
    violence being a condition of society. What is indisputable is the school must
    be capable and up to the task of responding correcting in a critical incident.


  2. This probably would have been better put as an e-mail to Tom Lord and I rather than here in the comments. Adding to the clutter isn’t usually great way of reducing it.

    I’ll try to avoid commenting on his posts and referring to him in my comments, but it’ll be tough seeing as how they often take up more space than the articles he’s commenting on.

  3. Some people seem to not recognize the impact that multiple lunch periods has on the class schedule.

    Right now, scheduling classes is simplified  because everyone takes lunch at the same time.   No classes are scheduled during lunch.   No student ever has to skip lunch because they need a course offered at the same time (and that would be illegal, anyway).

    With multiple lunch periods, classes are scheduled during every lunch period. 

    With multiple lunch periods, certain combinations of classes would mean “no lunch for you!” (which would, among other problems, be illegal).

    The class schedule has to be carefully designed so that all students can take their required classes and electives (like, say, AP classes) – yet still have lunch every day.    For some sets of classes, this might not be mathematically possible.

    That’s why I say that no plan for “closing the campus” is really a serious plan until it examines the impact of the changes to the bell schedule and course catalog (including requirements, typical tracks, etc.)

  4. This back and forth between The Sharkey and Bruce Love is getting very tiresome for everyone else who reads Berkeleyside and the comments section — agreed? If the two of you can’t cut it out and stick to the interesting discussion, we’ll give you a time-out. (See, you’ve turned me in a scolding schoolmarm…)

  5. It’s not about “putting a price tag on kid’s safety”. 

    No matter how much we are willing to spend “whatever it takes”, the truth is that budgets are finite (and strained already).    We can’t afford to buy every thing that seems like it might help.    There are trade-offs that we have no choice but to make.

    When we look at some option – such as “close the campus” – we ought to take a realistic look at the actual costs and a critical, careful look at what we expect to accomplish.    It would be tragic if we spent a lot buying something that sounded like it would improve security, only to find out that it made matters worse.   It would be tragic if we blew all our budget doing something expensive, that only helps a little, when we could have spent that money on other things that helped more.

    My best guess remains that closing the campus is a good idea (for many reasons) but it would be foolish for us all to assume that it is a simple thing to do or that it is guaranteed to improve safety rather than make the situation worse.  The issues need examination.

    If we really do care about kids’ safety then I think we have to reject attempts to turn this into just playing politics by the dirty dozens.

  6. I’ve heard enough about our food service worker union to sense that their leadership never wants to be part of a creative solution to a difficult problem.

  7. my high school had several lunch periods.  I distinctly recall one year when I had first shift – lunch at 10:30 am.

  8. Bruce how do you put a price tag on kids safety? guarantee when a student gets shot and killed all of a sudden they will find a way and the means!

  9. Risks? What risks? Kids will be pissed off? We’ll have to spend the money we’re already wasting on idiotic task forces and religious community outreach on schedule planning instead?

    You pretend to like the idea of a closed campus, but you spend your effort arguing for the opposite and whining about how change is hard and nobody can do anything. Typical Tom Lord.

  10. Here’s my take, as a former BHS student, mother of a BHS student … and member of Berkeley society: Close the campus, leave one main entrance and have Uniformed Safety Staff scan for visible ID’s, which are mandatory, and worn on a lanyard. Lunches, broken up into three periods, are served to students via the cafeteria (which serves anyone, but also offers low-income lunches), and offer a few local popular eateries kiosks or carts from which to sell food during those 3 periods. It would be nice if there were vouchers purchased ahead of time, so that low-income students could also purchase food at the kiosks. The park is off-limits during school hours as is the surrounding residential neighborhood. Shattuck avenue?  Forget about it… 

    Loss of personal freedom and this is Berkeley? Well, since this is touted as an Urban School, that means we get to have Urban school rules. 

    Furthermore, what’s wrong with having students conform to a dress code? I do! And I wear a name badge around my neck when I’m at work. 

    Students who are on probationary status, and thus have signed on for a loss of certain rights, come 15 minutes early and are searched; if not that, then random searches of students on probation is allowed at the discretion of the school administration — and they do conduct random searches. 

    Sound like a Police State? Well, when the students have guns, what do you do — form a committee that can’t agree, show up or make any decisions? Yes… apparently that is what you do. 

  11. Even the kids who aren’t problematic and aren’t legal transfers should not be enrolled.  Let’s not complicate things:  resident or legal transfer? yes.  All others, no matter how virtuous? No.

    I wonder if others noticed in that story about the kid who was shot, with his sister, in his mother’s apartment.  It was very sad and it sounds like he was a good kid who did his bit for school spirit.  But, as Berkeleyside reported, the apartment where he lived was in North Oakland.  His sister lived in Berkeley; he did not, and yet he was enrolled at BHS.  While at BHS, he founded a club for Ethiopians/Eritreans.  Great, but as the Berkeleyside article also said, in passing, most of that community also lives in North Oakland.  In this case, the North Oakland violence stayed in North Oakland.  What happens when it follows a North Oakland kid to BHS?  School board members, I’m looking at you to put a stop to this.  Time to kick butt at the registration office.

  12. Even the kids who aren’t problematic and aren’t legal transfers should not be enrolled.  Let’s not complicate things:  resident or legal transfer? yes.  All others, no matter how virtuous? No.

    I wonder if others noticed in that story about the kid who was shot, with his sister, in his mother’s apartment.  It was very sad and it sounds like he was a good kid who did his bit for school spirit.  But, as Berkeleyside reported, the apartment where he lived was in North Oakland.  His sister lived in Berkeley; he did not, and yet he was enrolled at BHS.  While at BHS, he founded a club for Ethiopians/Eritreans.  Great, but as the Berkeleyside article also said, in passing, most of that community also lives in North Oakland.  In this case, the North Oakland violence stayed in North Oakland.  What happens when it follows a North Oakland kid to BHS?  School board members, I’m looking at you to put a stop to this.  Time to kick butt at the registration office.

  13. OMG.  Re: Lifelines to HerringAre our trusted agents adopting a solution to problems that they have not, and might yet not, admit to having?
    The premise behind the Lifelines program seems to be the same premise as that behind motherhood.  … and behind the “it takes a village” granola that figuratively litters the streets of our fair city.  Clearly, the “parent gap” is the vector that is addressed by Lifelines. 
    It’s roughly the same constellation of supports and (yes, ‘negative’) feedbacks as are needed for effective ‘diversion’ and ‘re-entry’ (from lock-up) programs.  Would that there were widespread, consistent and comprehensive support for such fundamental and familiar, if not outright ‘simple’, corrective actions! 
    In many ways, I like this program.  Except for the very troublesome fact that it’s a program!Implementation of even the most well-understood principles becomes quite likely to fail when designed to be carried out by professionals rather than by the interested and impacted villagers, elders, and families (i.e., Folks Who Have Skin In The Game).  In fact, many such elegant programmatic solutions become expensive, abstract/academic/nominal, and ineffective when given over to professionals, outside carpetbaggers preying on our tragic if momentary dysfunction, and fly-by-night do-gooders with their interlocking directorates.  But I digress. 
    Three Qs about applying Lifelines to BHS and BUSD and Berkeley:(1) Relevance of Proposed Solution.  How is Lifelines presumed to be in any way a response to either the particular or the general problematic elements that have been or will be identified by BUSD, the Board or the Ad Hoc Committee? 
    (2) Adequacy of Proposed Resources.  By what authority and funding mechanisms is Lifelines to actually conduct their promised “focused deterred policing and specific community engagement”?  This is an “unfunded mandate” from the outset!
    (3) Breadth of Support, Representativeness and Equity.  By what process, in special Berkeley, are these our agents supposed to either incorporate the Lifelines vision and practices or to allocate funds in a contract for an experimental or symbolic display of same? Whoops. Lifelines is a done deal?  This is such BH (Before the Horse) !

  14. In 2000/01 Former Mayor Shirley Dean put together a completely viable  plan for local vendors to solve the BHS cafeteria food shortage problem, the district caved into union pressure prohibiting non union food service.

  15. My career is in education planning and consulting, and consequentially, i’ve come to learn that any reform or restructuring project raises many risks for stakeholders. I’ve also learned that because something is difficult or expensive, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing, especially when we’re talking about an issue as “non-trivial” as student safety.

    Who knows, maybe closing the campus can be an amazing solution. I don’t know enough about BUSD’s, but maybe it would be possible to invite licensed vendors to the campus, and actually create a continual revenue stream for the school (this is something i’ve seen in place at other high schools).

    The sad irony in all of this is that the “ad hoc safety committee” will probably end up suggesting further exploration of the issue, and a private consulting firm will be brought on (which, even i’ll admit, ain’t cheap), whose report will ultimately suggest that BHS move towards closing the campus during school hours

  16. Pablito, of course.  Many of us have been saying to close or semi-close the campus for a while.  It’s just not something you can do in a vacuum. 

    Some of the big obstacles are that it is hard to reconcile with the physical infrastructure, the current level of staffing and security, the bell schedule, etc.   And if you start playing with staffing, security, and the bell schedule… what else are you then forced to change? 

    Complicating all of those issues is the political structure of the small school system which makes forced course catalog simplifications contentious.

    The risks are non-trivial.  It’s an expensive change to make in the
    short term.  It’s a change that can’t be made without a lot of planning and work across the entire institution.   Doing it badly can easily make matters worse.  Doing it
    well might not make things all that much better even while the change costs a lot of taxpayer money …..

    It is an idea worth working on but I feel obliged to object when the public discourse is poisoned by baseless and insulting comments like “The Sharkey”‘s

  17. The district likes to change the cafeteria capacity,  last time I heard their number was 700 not 500, and how about FINALLY making use of the sandwich snack shop we paid big bucks for that is still empty on the campus green. Split lunch schedule, sandwich snack shop, homemade lunches, upper class privilege off campus.

    The district would have to tweak class schedules for split lunch, doable.

  18. Hint #1: Not all the students need to eat lunch in the cafeteria.
    Hint #2: Not all the students need to eat lunch at the same time.

    If you want a more thorough response and a detailed plan, you’re going to need to pay me.

  19. You haven’t even bothered to answer the problem stated in the article:  “They have argued about whether to close the campus, and how a cafeteria equipped to hold 500 would serve 3,200 students a day.” (emphasis added)

    Please share your thoughts on the logistics of the cafeteria question, the impact on the bell schedule, the interaction of these scheduling changes with the course catalog and other school activities.

    Bearing in mind here that we are expecting a “remarkably simple” solution that you’ve promised.

  20. Neighborhoods burdened with corner drug dealing are all too familiar with direct outreach, we do it all the time, without a tax payers’ stipend. Yet these holier than thou CBO’s lecture us that they and only they are able to reach the “lost boys”. Utter bs, and it is really getting old, along with the racial identity politics used to leverage funding the vague programs.

    How about true restorative justice, where the community who actually lives in the affected area and the victims have a voice. 

    From BOCA website:


    The Lifelines to Healing Initiative is an evidence-based,
    data-driven, violence reduction and opportunity creation strategy
    designed to address pervasive violence and drug dealing in neighborhoods
    and communities.  The premise behind this initiative, as shown through
    evidence-based practices, is that a small number of individuals engage
    in a large percentage of violence and drug offenses.  With a strategy of
    focused deterred policing and specific community engagement and
    interruption, these small number of individuals can be presented with a
    message that they are loved, but their criminal actions are
    not acceptable in the community.  Offenders will be presented with a
    coordinated and collaborative message to cease their behavior and accept
    the “lifeline” made available to them, or they will be subject to
    arrest and incarceration.

  21. Although I broadly agree with your basic premise, it should be obvious that the real motive of “educating the whole world” is NOT altruistic, but to keep a constant flow of students and funding dollars to
    maintain staffing levels and salaries

  22. Great comment, Pablito.

    I suppose “obvious” would have been a better choice of wording than “simple” – but unfortunately it’s not really being considered even though it’s the norm in the rest of the State.

    I really don’t understand why BHS and the committee are just stabbing in the dark instead of examining what works at other schools and copying it at BHS.

  23. Having spent a number of years working in a 4,000+ student high school that was a part of the Los Angeles Unified School District, I was shocked to find out just how open the BHS campus is.

    Most large high schools in Los Angeles make it a policy to have minimal points of entry/exit open during school hours (usually it’s just one gate during class hours, and two open at lunctime), and these are closely monitored. Additionally, most schools also use “off-campus” lunch as a privilege for the older students (and that privilege can be revoked due to truancy). You’d be amazed how many non-students would make it on to a large campus each day, and as a teacher, I knew that limited entry points weren’t so much to keep the kids in, as much as they were to keep people out.

    This isn’t to say that this is a “remarkably simple” implementation, but I am saying that this is certainly a feasible implementation, as i’ve seen it in effect in high schools much larger than Berkeley High. Of course the school will have to deal with a whole new set of issues regarding the cafeteria, but better to do it now than later. I’m sure that many who went to high schools other than BHS will remember that being off-campus, whether it be for lunch or an off-campus class, was always a privilege, and certainly not a right.

    Also, I think it’s hilarious that the notion of uniformed security is outrageous to some. This is the norm in many (if not most) school districts throughout California, and sadly, by always having to buck the norm, Berkeley is compromising its own safety.

  24. Don’t let students off campus for lunch.
    Between the first bell and the last bell, restrict entrance to campus to a single entry point and check the IDs of everyone who enters campus.


    (Time until Tom comes back whining about the campus food services or similar non-issue in T-minus 5… 4… 3… 2…)

  25. “One of the major steps – and one with the highest PR value –
    was the creation of a committee that would bore …”

    [ Please allow me to complete that thought. ]
    … even its own dedicated members.

    Such a discouraging process! 
    And yet so familiar.  Consider the
    committee turnover, the charge to discover their mission and resources, the
    stinging criticism from the Board, and the assurance [sic] that any resulting
    recommendations will be regarded by the District as merely advisory.  These are precisely the tools of
    discouragement, precisely the machinations of a desperately self-protective
    institution, and – for long-term BUSD fans and stakeholders – the surest signs
    of spring.

    It is difficult to disagree with Director Hemphill’s
    assertion that the community expected a meaningful plan and immediate actions
    to address this season’s serious safety issues. 
    But she surely forgets herself.  An
    ad hoc committee is, from the outset, an unlikely means for solving this season’s
    particular concerns about colors, non-residents, guns.  These particulars are manifestations of
    perennial and persistent – culturally entrenched – problems at BHS.  Hemphill’s stinging reminder is better directed
    at the board and the district. 

    It is similarly difficult to object to Superintendent Huyett’s
    endorsement, “If we want to solve the problem, we need to be engaged.”  Yet his vision for the results of such
    engagement are thin tissues of bureaucratic ritual – literally!:  updates, a write up of recommendations, a
    plan, a presentation to the board, even perhaps – no, let’s hope not – “a
    dissenting, minority report”.  Beyond his
    vision, apparently, are rich troves of learned resources and guidance, not
    least from state CDE frameworks.

    The ad hoc committee has done a great service, by correctly “drifting”
    into territories deliberately abandoned by BUSD’s policy and implementation professionals. 

  26. I had a Berkeley police officer tell me the opposite, this officer said NONE were Berkeley residents, most were from Oakland and one was from Richmond…using a Berkeley address of your grandma does not qualify you to be a resident of Berkeley you must live here full time and NONE do!  just because they’ve pulled the wool over the BUSD’s eyes to gain admission doesn’t mean that these kids are now Berkeley Residents. we have been looking the other way TOO LONG! time for change!

  27. “Remarkably simple,” you say?  Ok, let’s see your plan for how to implement it.

  28. Part of the answer to this problem is remarkably simple – CLOSE THE CAMPUS.

    Until that simple step is taken, this school committee is just blowing smoke up our collective asses.

  29. I support your concerns that problematic out of district students should not continue to receive benefits of BSEP etc.

    However, the majority of the kids expelled for guns this year are Berkeley residents, and one was homeless. 

    One board member claimed all are residents, but the Oakland Tribune reported the first incident as a Richmond teen showing/selling the gun to a Berkeley teen.

  30. Frances forgot to mention that the district funded BOCA’s Pastor  McBride “Lifelines to Healing” $10,000  without a competitive RFP process or a  proposal which reflects the status of youth violence in Berkeley. BOCA is headed to council for another $10,000.

    The type of analysis they are asking for funding for should be done in-house by BPD or in collaboration with CoB public health dept evaluators.

    BOCA is entering into a multi-agency agreement with the City and Unified  making the claim  they represent the community. BOCA has always represented a segment of the community, they are not proxy for  the community, nor do they partner with residents already doing the heavy lifting in improving neighborhood environmental conditions,  which experts consider to be paramount to preventing gang involvement and youth violence.

  31. once again the kids bringing guns to Berkeley High ARE NOT Berkeley residents…the answer is really rather simple quit trying to educate the whole bay area and focus on Berkeley kids. BUSD is just like the Berkeley city council they are always trying to solve the whole worlds problems while the problems at home never get taken care of. We pay the highest taxes in the state here in Berkeley but our kids are not getting a proper education
    Get your collective heads out of the sand and do the obvious get the out of district kids out of BUSD and focus on educating our own kids!!!