Berkeley Unified School District reassesses school safety protocol in Sandy Hook aftermath

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Like many school districts across the nation, concerns about school safety after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary has prompted the Berkeley Unified School District to reassess and improve safety measures at its 20 schools.

The district will hire consultants to review and examine the safety and security protocol, particularly regarding potential acts of violence. Currently, each school has a comprehensive school safety plan that is updated annually.

“Although we have practices and procedures in place, we want the assistance of trained professionals to help us review both exterior and interior as well as safety plans and procedures to make our schools even safer,” said district Director of Student Services Susan Craig.

The new safety audit plans will review procedures not only for potential violent acts but also for natural and manmade disasters, such as earthquakes and chemical spills, Craig said.

Two years ago, the district hired consultants to conduct a comprehensive review following a string of firearm-related incidents at Berkeley High School, including one in which a shot was fired through a bathroom wall on campus. In March, the school went on lockdown when a parent reported spotting a young man with a gun in his waistband walking outside the perimeter of the campus.

According to School Board Director Karen Hemphill, some of the safety procedures consultants might consider would be examining the emergency exits, pathways and lockable doors from inside the classroom.

“(Consultants would be) inventorying what is in place, what needs to be put in,” Hemphill said. “Like many schools and government agencies, we are in an era where we have to consider things we really didn’t consider before, and that is looking at how to secure students that are in attendance from outside dangers.”

Berkeley Police Department will be working with the district and participating in a physical walkthrough of every campus in the district, according to Craig. The district will also work with the fire marshal to make sure new safety measures will be in compliance with the fire codes, she said.

Tracy Hollander, education chair of the Berkeley Parent Teacher Association Council who also has a son in a Berkeley middle school, said she is glad that the district is pursuing this action.

“Certainly the PTA is supportive of what the school district will do to ensure that our school is safe,” Hollander said. “I think that it’s proactive … and I think teachers and the administration have the tools to handle these situations.”

Although the fiscal impacts are yet to be determined, Craig estimates the safety audits may cost about $50,000, considering the comprehensive review of all schools.

If the board approves of hiring the consultants on Jan. 23, the plans will take effect immediately, Craig said.

Daphne is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected]