Concern raised over drugs, truancy at Berkeley High School due to nearby Occupy camp

Occupy Berkeley protesters setting up tents in Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center Park in early October.
Rashad Sisemore/Staff
Occupy Berkeley protesters setting up tents in Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center Park in early October.

A recent surge in the number of Occupy Berkeley protesters camping out at the park across the street from Berkeley High School has led to concerns about the accessibility of drugs and alcohol at the park for students.

Berkeley High School principal Pasquale Scuderi explained in a message to the high school community Nov. 30 that making sure students are not in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park —  a popular lunch spot for students — during class time has become more difficult because of the encampment, especially after the number of tents there increased following Thanksgiving break.

“Keeping an eye on our students is a bit more challenging in the park at present with administrators and safety staff having to visually identify BHS students amongst increased numbers of adults, young adults, college students, teenaged non-students, and almost 90 tents,” Scuderi said in the message.

Over the past week, dialogue has ensued between the demonstrators, city and school administrators — including a meeting Wednesday between Scuderi and Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin — to improve the situation regarding truancy as well as alcohol.

Scuderi said that staff have noted an increase in the amount of marijuana and open alcohol use at the park recently.

However, Arreguin, whose district encompasses the school, said truancy and student drug use have been longstanding problems at the park.

“I look outside my window and see students smoking pot in the park during school hours,” he said. “These issues predate the Occupy encampment.”

Arreguin and Scuderi met Wednesday to discuss how the city and the school can better communicate and collaborate, particularly in light of the Occupy Berkeley situation.

“Our police department and parks department have all been monitoring the situation and keeping in communication with the demonstrators over sanitation, drug use and inappropriate behavior,” Arreguin said.

Arreguin suggested the school change its off-campus policy and stagger lunches, so as to better manage students.

“Overall the high school needs to do a much better job dealing with the issues of truancy and supervising, and having a more active presence in the park,” he said.

Scuderi said the school has made progress in monitoring students in the last year and a half, particularly through joint sweeps with the police department to check for student truancy at the park.

“We’ve made some significant progress by letting the students know that (the park) isn’t a place to go and not be held accountable,” he said. “With that being said, it has become a little more difficult (in) the last several weeks with the Occupy movement to sort out who is who.”

Arreguin said the city is currently monitoring the situation at Occupy Berkeley and working with demonstrators to address possible issues. There are currently no plans to evict the demonstrators, he said.

Raven Lighthall, Berkeley resident and head of security at the Occupy Berkeley camp, said maintaining security and keeping the peace has been one of the camp’s main priorities.

“We’re all about the schools and education and protecting students,” Lighthall said. “(Students) are allowed to hang out, but we don’t share drugs or alcohol.”

High school junior Billy Gonzalez, who hangs around the park frequently, said it does not bother him that there are an increased number of people at the park.

“It’s not harmful, they’re pretty peaceful,” he said. “If they see fights (between students), they try to help break it up.”

Gonzalez said he has not noticed an increase in the number of students drinking alcohol at the park but has noticed more students using drugs there, though not necessarily with Occupy Berkeley demonstrators.

Lighthall said he has seen students smoking on the outskirts of the park, though to his knowledge, no high school student has approached the camp asking for anything, he said.

“We’re trying to change the stigma of being a homeless camp and be seen more as a political movement,” he said. “We’re trying to make (the encampment) work with everyone, so kids and families can come out here and join us.”

Weiru Fang covers local schools.

Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comment policy
  • Anonymous

    Arreguin’s suggestion that BHS should alter its policies to accommodate a homeless encampment is absurd.  The camp has become a modern day Hooverville–a place for the unfortunate to sleep.  This isn’t about politics anymore.  What political action has arisen from the campers lately?  Does Berkeley want a permanent campout next to BHS and in downtown Berkeley?  How many homeless campers should be permitted?  How long should this go on?  

  • BHS Student

    As if Occupy Berkeley is somehow responsible for truancy and drug and alcohol use at Berkeley High. Its peace wall park guys, students have been skipping school and doing drugs there for decades. And they will continue to skip even if protestors set up an encampment. Yes its a problem but your attempts to make it seem like this is some big new thing while discrediting an important social movement are ridiculous. I go to Berkeley High and have never felt unsafe around or have been offered drugs or alcohol by Occupy Berkeley protests, and neither has anyone else I know. If students are talking to protestors, its not about illegal activities but Occupy movement. This is irresponsible and sensationalistic journalism. BHS students have pride in our school and community, stop giving us a bad rep!

  • Doug Stanhope

    Who better to do drugs than high school kids?

  • Alaska

    Please stop trying to spin Occupy into the Fox News cycle with your irresponsible reporting. Since you were in high school (what, last year?) Weiru, you might remember that the notion that you were an innocent child who had to be protected from imaginary evil was not only laughable, but kind of offensive since it was most often used as a political moral panic by idealogues who were reducing you to symbolic helplessness. The story here might be the nature of the conversations that are happening inside Berkeley High classrooms about what all those people across the street want, and what’s wrong with the country. Like reporting on the nature of the conversations inside the Occupy camps, it takes more thoughtful legwork, dedicated listening, and intelligent reporting to figure out how to make it legible, and this is something that you and the majority of the media have not figured out how to do yet.

  • Uh Its Berkeley

    Baseless Fearmongering.
    Scuderi is emblematic of what is wrong with our society.

    • Guest

      Agreed that Berkeley, Occupy Berkeley, and Berkeley High School are all shit.

      • Guest

        Fuck you. B-HIGH!

        • I tend to agree with the first Guest.

      • ananomious

        it didn’t   used to be like this back in the days …..