Berkeley High School is currently in the process of finding new members for its safety committee for the 2022-23 school year. An email with an application form was sent out to the community in late August announcing that the school was looking for students and faculty who would like to participate on the committee. They plan to meet on the first Tuesday of each month from 4 to 5 p.m.
This committee has existed at BHS since the passing of the California Assembly Bill 1747 back in 2018. The bill states that every K-12 school must create a safety plan which, in return, creates a safe environment for students and staff.
“Having a School Safety Committee is a mandate, and the committee’s primary responsibility is to review, update, and bring a Comprehensive School Safety Plan (CSSP) to the School Site Council for approval before submitting (the plan) to the state by March of that school year,” said Shaheen Mohammed, Dean of Students.
Mohammed also explained that each safety plan is made for the following year, thus this year’s CSSP is for the 2023-24 school year. Members of the safety committee will consist of staff, students, and parents. “Typically, we have the same number of school staff as parents/guardians/students,” explained Mohammed.
Mohammed added that a record number of students volunteered to participate in the safety committee. “That exceeds the total number of staff on the committee, but I have plans for including everyone through an ad hoc committee that will be charged with updating our emergency supplies in each classroom as well as serving as Student Ambassadors,” Mohammed said.
Cassandra Tesch, the dean of attendance, also shared her thoughts on the committee and safety at BHS. “I think in terms of safety, it’s important for everybody to be aligned on what it means for us to have a safe environment, both physically and mentally. So, having students involved in that, I think is really important,” Tesch said.
As a result of several safety issues at BHS in recent years, many students report feelings of concern. “I don’t really feel safe at this school in general. I mean, anything could happen, and I feel like our school won’t know how to handle it,” said Harriet Roan, a sophomore.
“Whenever there is a traumatic event that affects our school and community, they only show support for one or two days max, and then it’s back to normal,” Roan added, regarding her thoughts on how BHS has handled tragedies and violence in the past.
While the specifics of what the committee will address this year are currently unspecified, BHS’s school site council shared this year’s goals regarding safety in the most recent safety plan document, accessible on BHS’s website. The document explained that the site council aims for more preparedness for emergencies such as armed intruders, earthquakes, and fires. The document also said that Berkeley Unified School District schools must have two armed intruder drills per school year. The site council is also aiming for a more positive school climate by using alternatives to suspension, such as restorative justice. Another goal for this year is to reduce absenteeism by using prevention, early intervention, and concentrated support for students with a higher than 10 percent absence rate.
Safety and mental health have been of top priority and high concern during recent berkeley school board meetings. During the September 21 meeting, John Calise presented on the district’s efforts regarding safety. Schools are in the process of making campuses safer and more secure. The district is adding more cameras and security locks to campuses. BHS is also in the process of implementing more and more mental health services for both staff and students.
“We have made some new changes just to secure the campus a little bit more so we can keep our attention on the front door. It is a really big school, so we’ll never have everything accounted for, but through collaborating together we’ll be able to identify those gaps,” Tesch said. “(BHS) is nestled in a busy area, so naturally, we may encounter things related to what’s happening in the community. But I think that mostly people have pretty good intentions, and every time there has been any kind of safety concern we’re notified, and then we act on it really quickly.”