By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group East Bay
Berkeley's school district decided to spend $270,000 a year to keep guns out of its two high schools, following a Wednesday night meeting in which board members approved a stack of recommendations from a newly created safety committee.
The recommendations follow six incidents earlier in the year in which seven students were arrested and expelled for bringing the weapons to Berkeley High School and Berkeley Technology Academy.
In one incident, a gun was fired in a bathroom, but no one was injured.
The recommendations by a safety committee of students, teachers, administrators and parents include increasing police on campus, adding more security guards, adding four "monitors" who look for suspicious activity at the entrances to the school, providing uniforms for the security guards, gun violence and prevention education for students, new procedures for visitors to the high schools, and increasing collaboration with the police department. The $270,000 pays mostly for increased staffing.
The board appeared to have a solid majority in voting for requiring students, staff and visitors to wear visible identification badges on campus, but decided against it after administrators raised concerns about staff time needed to enforce the wearing of them, questions about student cooperation and a lack of consequences for those who declined to wear them.
The board also decided against installing metal detectors at school entrances because they are too time intensive and not guaranteed to keep guns off campus. And board members dropped the idea of closing Berkeley High at lunch to the 3,400 students because the school can only feed up to 500.
Berkeley schools Superintendent Bill Huyett said he hopes to have most of the recommendations implemented by fall.
While Huyett said many of the recommendations will help keep guns off campus, he admitted that none is a "magic bullet."
"Our task was to reduce presence of guns on campus," Huyett said "There is no magic bullet for that. We struggled with each of these in how closely each of them are tied to the problem. Our consultant said the biggest deterrent is the relationship kids have with adults. The biggest thing is trust and relationship.''
The school district has taken several other steps since the last gun incident on March 22 including increased training for 12 security guards at Berkeley High, adding a second Berkeley police officer to patrol the campus one day a week so that an officer is available every day, hiring a consultant to assess the school's safety measures, meeting with students and families, closing some entrances to the school and posting security officers at the remaining open entrances in the morning and after lunch.
A teacher at Berkeley High and a counselor at Berkeley Technology Academy have been assigned to monitor students who are on probation, are in foster care or are re-entering school after being expelled.
Investigations by the school district found four of the students had prior "discipline incidents" during the year leading up to the gun incidents.
Berkeley High parent Dave Peattie, who sat on the safety committee, agreed with Huyett that none of the recommendations guarantee the campus will be gun free. He urged the administration to not lose its focus.
"The recommendations offered here certainly do not guarantee the prevention of guns on campus and they are by no means new recommendations," Peattie said.
"In fact, most of the recommendations made are that existing policies be enforced. I ask that the school board begin with these recommendations and continue, especially, working with the BHS safety committee."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley