Berkeley Unified School District reviewing preliminary report on campus safety

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In the coming months, Berkeley Unified School District plans to release a report regarding an issue that has come to the forefront of national concern: school safety.

Just a month after the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which 20 schoolchildren and six staff members were killed by an armed intruder, the Berkeley district allocated about $50,000 to have school security consultant Edu-Safe Associates audit its safety policies. About $30,000 of that has been spent so far. After the district reviews the results of the audit, it will release a report and possible recommendations to the school board.

Mark Coplan, a district spokesperson, said the audit was not conducted to modernize outdated safety policies but rather to improve already sufficient plans at the district’s schools. Each of the 20 schools in the district has a comprehensive safety plan that is updated annually.

In March, an armed man was reported near Berkeley High School after a failed robbery. Shortly afterward, Berkeley Police Department advised administrators to implement a campus lockdown “to prevent potential harm from entering the campus and also to prevent kids and adults on campus from exiting into situations that could be extremely dangerous,” said Pasquale Scuderi, Berkeley High School’s principal, in a letter to families and staff.

Two years ago, the same school suffered a string of firearm-related incidents.

“All I was told to do was lock my doors, turn off the lights and draw my window shades down and nothing else,” said Daniel Plonsey, a teacher at Berkeley High School with two sons in the district, of the lockdown in March. “(But) even with an updated safety plan, I don’t think I would know what to do in such an unpredictable situation — how could anyone?”

The district’s hiring of consultants to audit safety policies in January was meant to foster a wider dialogue, Coplan said.

“(A) reason we decided to bring in consultants was that we thought it would be less effective to come up with just a local solution,” he said. “We will come up with better solutions this way.”

Two policies many safety experts have pushed are “run, hide, fight” and ALICE (“alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate”). Both are strategies for what to do in the event of a campus intrusion, and both advocate attacking the intruders.

Multiple school districts in the East Bay are considering adopting ALICE, including Pleasanton Unified School District.

Glen Sparks, a coordinator for the Pleasanton district, said that while his district is considering the program, it will more likely draw up its own intruder-safety protocols through cooperation with Pleasanton Police Department.

Berkeley Unified School District enjoys a similarly close relationship with the city police department, said Jennifer Coats, public information officer for BPD.

“BPD has a longstanding relationship with BUSD, and we will continue to work together towards campus safety,” she said.

Contact Nico Correia at [email protected].