On Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, two guns were found in separate Berkeley High School students’ backpacks. “The response was pretty swift and comprehensive,” said Enikia Ford Morthel, Berkeley Unified School District’s superintendent. “Our staff engaged with the students, and they were able to find the weapon and then proceed with next steps and consequences. That was the case for both students involved.”
According to Ford, in order to protect the privacy of minors, the way the arms were found and who reported them remains undisclosed information. George Fornero, the BHS interim vice principal explained the importance of confidentiality to all parties involved.
“We keep it as confidential as possible … (because a) kid is taking a risk by telling us something,” Fornero said. “We want to support that kid and then also anybody that’s doing something like that, we want to support that student too.”
Julia Segre, a junior and SLAM poetry club president, acknowledges the dualities of gun safety issues in the U.S. and the complications it presents to students and teachers alike.
“It’s really hard to deal with this and there’s kind of no good answer of how to deal with this, especially on a student or teacher level,” Segre said. “It goes all the way up to the laws in the country.”
This month’s gun incident isn’t the first for BHS. In 2022, a BHS student who was plotting a mass shooting and bombing of BHS turned themselves in and pleaded guilty to the federal crime. In 2011, within a two and a half month period, BHS encountered six different incidents involving students bearing firearms on or near the school’s campus.
After the 2011 incidents, the Superintendent’s Ad Hoc Safety Committee, a temporary committee designed to solve problems “as needed” within the district, responded to these series of incidents with eleven main recommendations: increased safety officer staffing, additional Berkeley Police Department (BPD) school resource officers, gun violence prevention education, stricter visitation policies, more pro positive environment programs, regularly enforced closed campus times, reduced entryways onto BHS, weapon screening, uniforms for safety officers, required student identification badges, and, finally, increased collaboration between BHS and the BPD.
After receiving these recommendations, the district formulated a plan to implement these suggestions along with a staff training called A.L.I.C.E (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) for the following 2011-2012 school year.
For students and parents alike, being safe on campus is crucially important, and something that the school and district have been working to achieve. Every year the BHS Safety Committee reevaluates and updates school procedures and protocols including the 80 page school safety plan.
Liliana Cardil, the BHS Safety Committee Reporter and BHS mom, explained the function and goals of the committee.
“The safety committee represents an opportunity to do something in order to address pressing issues like safety,” Cardil said. “Part of the committee’s job is to try and have new ideas be told by the public and heard by the district.”
In an attempt to make BHS safer, two safety officers were added to the 14 that were on campus last year. Having upgraded safety cameras, as well as more of them around campus, has also been a discussion, according to Dan Smuts, the BHS School Safety Committee vice chair.
In Segre’s eyes, after the 2022 incident, BHS can also work to improve their level of transparency as well as additional support for the student body’s mental health.
“We only found out that they were handling it like a week after it happened,” Segre said. “So I kind of wish there was more transparency surrounding that but then I also realized (that) you want to protect the kid’s privacy because he is a minor.”
“I think that there’s this culture around school shootings, especially at a school that hasn’t experienced one where it’s like, oh, we joke about this and like it’s just another day in America … You kind of just have to joke to kind of deal with how scary it is,” Segre said. “You have to pretend it’s fine because that’s how you stay strong.”
Although complete safety against gun violence can not be guaranteed, certain measures can make it less likely to happen, and what schools do after experiencing an incident is incredibly important. Taking measures to help with the aftermath of incidents on students can also help make it better.
“I’m not really usually happy with how the admin reacts to things like this,” Segre said. “But I do think at some level, they’re doing pretty close to the best that they can do with the resources that they have.”