On June 1, the Berkeley Police Department reported arresting a 16-year-old after receiving the tip that he was recruiting other high schoolers to enact a mass shooting and/or bombing at Berkeley High School.
The teen turned himself in on May 30, BPD said. He has since pleaded guilty to a felony, according to Assistant District Attorney Matthew Golde, with his sentence including time in a residential rehabilitation facility.
BHS principal Juan Raygoza described the school district’s response to this incident. He said he was in close communication with both Brent Stephens, former superintendent of Berkeley Unified School District, and Jeff Mitchell, a BPD officer.
“The conversations are both about what we’re doing right now with this investigation, but also just much more broad conversations about school safety, about making sure we have the resources and support in place to keep our campus and our students safe, going into our next school year,” Raygoza said.
Raygoza stated that the district should consider several key preventative measures, such as staffing and evacuation training.
“At Berkeley High, we have a lot of entry points,” Raygoza said. “Are we able to hire more safety officers in order to have more supervision on campus? That allows us at all times to make sure we have adult eyes in the hallways, out on the campus green, in the courtyard, and on the perimeter… That’s important to know.”
Ian Segall, student school board representative, echoed these sentiments, describing the shortcomings of the last school year, particularly with staffing. “We were in a weird spot last year because we were down a lot of staff, like safety officers. There wasn’t really a consensus on how to handle school safety,” Segall said. “But, I think that the district is definitely taking more steps to ensure that the short staffing issues are being fixed. There are a lot of new hires, in both safety officers and counseling staff.”
Segall explained the balance in ensuring security without adopting extreme, intrusive measures.
“In the future, I’d love to see a district where student safety is respected, (but) each person is still respected,” Segall said. “So, we aren’t going to have metal detectors on campus, but kids aren’t going to feel like someone’s going to pull a knife on them at school or fear a gun threat, simply because of the atmosphere that we’ll have, which will be cultivated through better relationships between students and safety officers and counseling staff.”
Raygoza added that another goal is increasing education on appropriate behaviors on campus, and ensuring that there are strong mental health resources for students.
He commented on the emotional impact of serious safety concerns, as he had spoken with many students, parents, and staff members in the days immediately following the public communication of the arrest
“I think it impacted everybody, and it also could have impacted everyone differently,” Raygoza said. “It was definitely tough, and I think that it continues to speak to how we need to be proactive to make sure that our campus is safe, and have staff and resources in place for any kind of serious incident that causes real trauma with our community members, so that we’re there to support you.”
Raygoza concluded by emphasizing the importance of “clear and proactive communication with students, staff, and families.” According to Segall, however, clear communication has been a problem in BUSD recently.
Segall referred to former Superintendent Stephens’s email on June 1, notifying the public of the arrest. The email stated that administrative and security staff had been alerted about the incident, and promised that counseling would be made available to students the following day. But in the public comment section of the school board meeting that night, Universal Ninth Grade Ethnic Studies teacher Alex Day said that the email was inaccurate in both respects.
“The email sent out by Superintendent Stephens was actually inaccurate, in terms of talking about the school being notified,” Day said in the meeting. “The counselors were said to be available to support tomorrow when those counselors were not asked if they were going to be available… This problem with staff not being alerted (is an) ongoing issue.”
Segall described his sadness at learning about the lack of transparency of the school district in this situation. “As a student, when I heard that, I was disheartened, because the people that are supposed to be informing us and directing us were keeping the truth from us, and not being clear with us 100 percent of the time,” Segall said. “I understand that there were issues (of) a lot of people knowing just because of safety, because if it got around then it would create hysteria and stuff like that, but I think that the blatant absence of truth was not needed.”
Going forward, Segall plans to advocate for transparency with the new superintendent and the school board.
He reflected on the misconception that progressive cities like Berkeley are free from gun violence. “I was absolutely shocked that something like this could happen, so close. I mean, literally at home,” Segall said. “As Berkeley, we find that we are often in a bubble, and that we are kind of exempt from the horrors of the rest of the world, but I think that this just demonstrated that even in places that are very liberal, gun violence and gun issues are still very prevalent.”