Local school district establishes heightened safety measures

Jan Flatley-Feldman/Staff
Berkeley High School has increased its security for the start of the new school year in response to several gun occurences earlier this year.

After several incidents involving firearms on its campus last year, Berkeley High School has instated heightened safety measures for the start of the new school year.

As part of the changes, the high school, teeming with more than 3,000 students, now has four campus monitors — positions created to guard the four student entrances to the school — and all campus visitors must now check in at the front desk.

From January to March this year, there were six occurrences of students carrying a firearm in or around the two Berkeley Unified School District high school campuses — one incident at Berkeley Technology Academy and the rest at or near Berkeley High School.

In response to these incidents, additional officers were hired in April at the two high school campuses, along with an increase in the presence of Berkeley Police Department officers — two measures that will continue throughout the 2011-2012 school year.

On June 24, the Ad Hoc Advisory Committee on Safety — created by district Superintendent Bill Huyett in response to the gun occurrences — released recommendations for making the school safer, many of which were implemented at the start of this year.

“We’ve been working all summer,” said Susan Craig, the district’s director of student services. “Some of these things are working and others we’re fine-tuning … we’re pleased that we are able to get the key measures for the start of the school year.”

Craig said the police department will be doing safety training at the two high schools as well as at the middle schools and that awareness of the gun issue on campus will help with the prevention of these kinds of incidents. As the school’s policies dictate, students found with firearms will be suspended or expelled, and the incident will be reported to the police.

“Our goal is to continue to maintain and cultivate a collaborative relationship with BUSD with respect to any safety or any other police-related concerns,” said Berkeley police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss.

The money for these implementations comes largely from the school district’s general fund, as well as from the district’s school safety funds, Craig said.

The changes made in the spring of last year, which included stationing two more safety officers — in addition to the existing 10 — at Berkeley High School and one additional officer at Berkeley Technology Academy, as well as hiring a new police officer to work at Berkeley High School on Mondays, cost $90,000. The total security bill for this school year, including faculty preparation over the past few months, will be approximately $200,000 this year, she said.

Craig said she is “optimistic” about the effectiveness of these measures.

“We need to be vigilant,” Craig said. “(We) can’t get comfortable and think we can magically prevent 100 percent of firearms getting onto school, onto campus, but I’m very pleased with the opening of school and how smooth it has been.”