By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group East Bay
A school board discussion on what to do about guns being brought to Berkeley's two high schools turned red hot Wednesday night when trustees and a parent complained the district is taking too much time and drifting from the issue.
That prompted a tense response from school district Superintendent Bill Huyett.
"This isn't fair, it's not fair to our staff," Huyett said, his voice rising. "We're not drifting. Our work is very specific. We've done exactly what the school board asked us to do."
Seven students have been arrested and recommended for expulsion at Berkeley High School and Berkeley Technology Academy between Jan. 1 and March 21. In the last incident, a student fired a gun in a bathroom at Berkeley High. No one was injured.
By contrast, just one student was expelled from Berkeley High for bringing a gun to school last year, according to the California Department of Education.
During a presentation on what the district has done to address the problem, board members Leah Wilson and Karen Hemphill raised questions about the time it is taking the district to come up with solutions. During a public comment period, parent Scott Tolmie also was critical of the administration.
"At the April 13 school board meeting the superintendent and principal of Berkeley High agreed measures would be immediate and that included changing access to the school and having ID badges," Tolmie said.
"Nothing has happened, there are no ID badges and anyone can walk on to campus, nobody is watching. You said it would happen in a few days. It's been six weeks and nothing has happened."
During a presentation by Director of Student Services Susan Craig on what the district is doing, Hemphill said she was expecting action sooner.
"The community was looking for a plan, immediate steps, and I meant this year or as soon as possible," Hemphill said. "Our safety committee we formed is saying attendance is poor, the group is adrift. There are number of issues being raised by members."
Huyett called that statement "political."
"I want Berkeley to hear this," Huyett said. "If we want to solve the problem, we need to be engaged. The district has responded exceptionally well. If they think the committee is drifting, let them say that in committee. We have done exactly what we were asked to do: come up with a plan by the end of the year and form a committee and give you updates every other week."
Wilson said she thought district staff was specifically supposed to look at the issue of guns and what to do about them, "and now it appears we are tackling many issues around the broader incidence of I don't know what, bullying and violence, and I'm not sure what this committee is doing."
Craig said since the last gun incident, Berkeley High School has locked one gate permanently to restrict access to the campus and has fixed a second gate so that students can only go out. A third gate is locked after 8:45 a.m. and a fourth gate was fixed and locked. And the school has posted staff at all the gates during morning and afternoon, she added.
She said the school board will have specific items to vote on at its June 29 meeting including mandatory uniforms for school security guards, new procedures for visitors to the school, security staffing, identification badges, student dress codes and partially closing the campus.
Craig also said Berkeley police trained Berkeley High security guards Wednesday in emergency communication and search and seizure protocols.
The committee, she said, also has looked at three years of suspension data at Berkeley High and compared it to other schools and it has compared the ratio of safety officers to the number of students to other schools.