|Berkeley High has locked four of its eight entrances and placed newly hired "campus monitors" at the remaining four in an attempt to cut down on the number of guns being brought on campus. (Photo by Doug Oakley)|
By Doug Oakley
Berkeley High School is making a fresh start at school safety this year, and will spend $180,000 a year on new employees to keep the peace.
The school district spent an additional $25,000 over the summer on training to bring school security guards into compliance with state education law, said Susan Craig, director of student services for the Berkeley Unified School District..
The district has hired two more security guards at Berkeley High, bringing the number to 12 and is hiring four new campus monitors who watch for potential problems at the school entrances, said Craig.
Earlier this year, five Berkeley High students were arrested and expelled for bringing guns to school. In one incident, a gun was fired in a restroom but no one was injured. And one student at the district's alternative high school, Berkeley Technology Academy, was arrested and expelled for gun possession.
"We've had a good opening this year given what happened last year," said Berkeley High Principal Pasquale Scuderi. "The security measures we've added are a positive step, but it has not given us reason to be complacent. With campus safety we're always having to play defense."
Craig said there was a "melee" in the park across the street on the first day of school last year.
But now a beefed up security guard contingent, Berkeley police and other school employees make regular sweeps of the park to get students who shouldn't be there back in school and make sure nothing bad is brewing, she said.
On campus the school has closed down four of eight entrances and has placed temporary monitors there until permanent employees are hired.
Those monitors are there to "make sure no outsiders come in, they check identification and make sure students don't just walk off campus," Craig said.
"One of the best things about the monitors," Scuderi said, "is that a student has to pass an adult on the way into school. That's a really good way of setting the tone for the day."
Over the summer the security guards went through training on how to investigate crimes, how to deal with an active shooter on campus, how to handle guns and how to deal with a student who may have a gun. The security guards will not handcuff or disarm a kid with a gun, Craig said.
That task would go to a Berkeley police officer who is on duty at the school five days a week now, up from four days a week last year.
Craig said now the school security guards are up to date on their training as required by state education law.
"I can't say all of them went through training before and that they all had the certification," Craig said. "I just didn't have the assurance that everyone had gone through it."
In addition to state mandated training, four of the security guards and 30 other administrators and counselors got additional training in "mentoring and support for high-risk youth who are involved in criminal activity," Craig said.
That training teaches administrators to intervene in the lives of kids who "may be caught up in violence and running around with friends committing robberies," Craig said.
One of the central themes of the training is to ask these kinds of students to look at their friends and determine "who in your life leads you to danger and who leads you to safety, and a lot of times there is no one who is safe," she said.
That kind of intervention at least gets the students thinking about what could happen to them if they continue, she said.
Uniforms for school security guards are on order are so that students and police can identify the guards from others who may be on campus when there is a problem at the school. "The security guards' main concern about uniforms is they didn't want to come across like law enforcement, because it is really important that students feel comfortable in coming to talk to a guard," Craig said.
Berkeley High also plans to lock the main entrance to the school and install a buzzer system to let people in one by one so that parent volunteers at the front desk can determine who should be on campus.
"That's something I feel we really need," Superintendent Bill Huyett said. "I think it's important to have a secure perimeter around your campus. We're not searching kids, but if there is just the presence there, it makes you think, gee I should follow the rules a little more."
Craig acknowledged that the cost of the new measures, mostly in hiring new employees, is high.
"You can't put a price on someone's life, so I think it's money well spent," Craig said.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.