Berkeley Unified School District to spend $2 million on safety plan

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About one year after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Berkeley Unified School District will spend about $2 million on a comprehensive school safety plan.

The school district hired two security consultants, Edu-Safe Associates and Dimensions Unlimited, at the cost of $70,000 to audit all 20 schools in the district in January 2013. After examining the recommendations given by the security consultants in their report, the school board voted two to one with two members absent, agreeing to spend money on armed-intruder training, increased video surveillance, campus address systems and the installation of new door locks engineered to prevent people from being locked inside classrooms.

“I substitute in the school district as well, so I’m happy to see that they’re phasing in new locks on the classroom doors,” said Tracy Hollander, president of the Berkeley Parent Teacher Association. The district’s plans to install more surveillance cameras, however, have sparked controversy among board members and school employees alike. Although there are already video cameras installed on nine campuses, board members expressed concern about purchasing additional cameras before creating a privacy policy, which currently does not exist.

Paula Phillips, president of Berkeley Council of Classified Employees, noted the privacy of food service workers has already been violated, especially at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, where there are cameras on dining commons refrigerators.

“We don’t want them installed in work lounges or anywhere union members would feel their privacy was violated,” Phillips said. According to Phillips, the district’s next step is to form a committee involving all stakeholders to gather their input in creating a privacy policy.

“The key here isn’t really day-to-day watching — it’s that if you have a person break in, we can go back and look to see who did it,” said school district spokesperson Mark Coplan.

Dimensions Unlimited also reported campuswide communications systems were not operating at a proficient level and recommended an evaluation be conducted throughout the school district.

School districts across the country have responded to the increase in mass shootings in schools with their own comprehensive security plans, such as the decision by Buncombe County Schools in Asheville, N.C., to install electronic entry doors in all elementary schools and panic buttons at reception desks.

According to Susan Craig, director of student services for Berkeley’s district, Berkeley Police Department will carry out armed-intruder training in the district before the end of the school year.

“I’m pleased and not surprised that the board approved the recommendations,” Craig said. “There’s definitely a need for staff to be trained in armed-intruder preparedness, and I think anything we can do to promote safety in the schools is great.”

Contact Jane Nho at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @JaneNho.