By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group East Bay
While Berkeley High officials grapple with making the campus safe after a cluster of gun incidents this year, state education data shows the school is not alone when it comes to disciplining students for serious offenses.
When compared to 10 other schools from San Leandro to Hercules, Berkeley High falls in the middle for percentage of students expelled for violence and drug-related crimes, including weapons possession, according to the California Department of Education.
But the Berkeley campus has the third highest rate of suspensions for drugs and violence among the 10 schools, according to the state data examined by the Bay Area News Group.
Data from Berkeley High was compared to San Leandro High School, Oakland Technical High School, Skyline High School in Oakland, Oakland High School, Albany High School, El Cerrito High School, Richmond High School, Pinole Valley High School and Hercules High School.
At Berkeley High .24 percent of the 3,349 students at the school, or eight students, were expelled last year for drug and violence offenses and 7.38 percent of students, or 247, were suspended for similar offenses on campus. San Leandro High School had the most expulsions at 1.15 percent or 31, and Skyline High School in Oakland had zero.
Richmond High had the highest percentage of students suspended last year at 10.35 percent and Hercules High had the lowest at 1.69 percent.
In addition to being able to compare Berkeley High with other schools in the area, department of education data provides insight into the kinds of problems present at Berkeley High. Administrators, school board members, parents and students are currently working on ways to curb the number of guns brought on campus and to cut down on crimes such as assault and robbery.
Schools can use the information to plan, said Stephanie Papas, a school health education consultant with the California Department of Education who oversees the data. "They can identify trends to discern what programs are working and what are not."
Berkeley school administrators have not shared the information in reports to the school board or the public thus far. The district has held several meetings over the past month to discuss measures that would curb the number of guns on campus and cut down on crime in general. Six students were arrested for bringing guns on campus so far this year and an Alameda County district attorney has alleged cover-ups by school employees of crimes committed on campus.
According to the data, last year one student was expelled from Berkeley High for bringing a gun to school; two were expelled for robbery or extortion; two were expelled for possession of a knife or other dangerous object; and one was expelled for causing serious physical injury to another. On the drug front, two were expelled for possession or sale of drugs or alcohol, according to the data.
Suspensions under the same drug and violence criteria at Berkeley High told a different story. There were 102 students suspended for physical injury to another person last year; 14 were suspended for intimidating a witness; 21 students were suspended for use of force or violence; three were suspended for crimes related to firearms, knives or explosives; 60 were suspended for possession or sale of drugs or alcohol; six were suspended for robbery or extortion; 185 were suspended for possession or sale of drug paraphernalia; 12 were suspended for harassment; one for assault or battery and one for possession of an explosive.
Berkeley High School Principal Pasquale Scuderi said the school does look at suspension and expulsion data very closely and even breaks it down by time of day, racial background of students and where on campus the offense was committed. The school's safety committee looks at the data and puts it into the school safety plan which is available to the public, he said.
"Could we do a better job in sharing the statistics? Yes we could, but the question is in finding the appropriate forum for it," Scuderi said. "We're not hiding the numbers. If you look at our numbers, I hope we can get more creative and effective in how we manage conflict."
Scuderi said that although the district and the school are always trying to find alternative ways to deal with discipline problems at the school, there is no tolerance for violence when it comes to expulsions and suspensions. He said he didn't want to comment on where Berkeley High falls in relation to other schools because his job is to simply get the numbers down to "zero."
"Violence is a nonnegotiable for us," Scuderi said. "We don't want to see it on any level."
Susan Craig, Berkeley schools director of student services who joined the district at the beginning of the school year, said she would like to get the expulsion rate lower.
"And I actually am a little surprised that our suspension rate is as high as it is," Craig said. "I don't know why the information has not come up in one of the recent meetings," Craig said. "It is available to the public."
Papas said that may be because some administrators within school districts don't know it exists.
"I do worry sometimes schools send off the reports to the department of education and never look at it again," Papas said.
Given all of Berkeley High's recent troubles regarding guns and violence, Craig believes the fact that it is a good school has taken a back seat.
"I believe Berkeley High is an excellent school, I really do, but we want to be better," Craig said.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.
Percent of Students Suspended and Expelled for
Violence and Drug-Related Offenses in 2009-2010 School Year
School Suspensions Expulsions
Richmond High 10.35% .12%
Pinole Valley High 7.77% 1.23%
Berkeley High 7.38% .24%
San Leandro High 7% 1.15%
Oakland High 6% .11%
El Cerrito High 5.71% .32%
Skyline High 5.3% 0%
Albany High 3.51% .16%
Oakland Technical 3.31% .06%
Hercules High 1.69% 1.39%
Source: California Department of Education