School board speakers express concern over the BHS safety plan


During the Berkeley Unified School District School Board meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, the BUSD School Board allowed for public comments, board member comments, union comments, the approval of the consent calendar, and discussion of the governor’s budget update. A significant topic of discussion was about a new safety plan at Berkeley High School, as well as a progress report for the Puente Project at BHS.

“Functionally, I’m here to tell you there is no safety plan for Berkeley High (School),” said Stacy Hera, a representative of the BHS Safety Committee. The BHS Safety committee’s job is to develop a comprehensive school safety plan, address safety issues at the school, and collect and present data to the BHS community. 

“For Berkeley High (School), the document approved last year is at best a Frankenstein copy-paste text dump of a lot of processes, procedures, and scenarios that are superfluous in many areas,” said Hera. 

Hera described the safety plan as being “completely inadequate,” as well as “only referring to the needs of kindergarteners.” An example from the document that Hera provided referenced a protocol where a plane may need to urgently land on campus, an excerpt taken from a school next to an airport. What is not included in the BHS safety plans are the following: a necessary earthquake plan, a modernized plan for unlocking gates and doors, or a plan for clear and immediate communication with teachers, students, and parents in the event of an emergency incident. There is currently no plan to manage sexual assault by a student on campus, nor a plan at BHS to deal with an active shooter. 

According to a BHS staff member interview with the committee, “If there is a serious incident like a shooter, it’s going to be total chaos and no one will have a plan.” 

Despite the lack of preparedness, there is a critical opportunity to improve the school’s safety, according to Hera. In terms of progress, the BHS Safety Committee has conducted several interviews with all different types of people within the school, held a safety hearing where many public comments were made, and shared that it is dedicated to a collaborative community-focused process. 

“(There) is a keen understanding that there is a need to listen (and) understand and investigate before imposing any sort of real suggestions or requirements upon the school,” said Hera. Despite the committee’s efforts towards helping BHS achieve a substantial safety plan, the safety committee still needs the board’s and district’s representation to help advocate for the thorough changes required to ensure a safer BHS.

A slideshow presentation was given by the Latinx Success Resolution Board on general updates and progress from a perspective at BHS. The presenters gave progress reports on Latinx data review for literacy and implementation of a Latinx resolution, as well as reviewed the BHS Puente program. 

The mission statement of Puente is to “enable and inspire our diverse student body to achieve academic excellence and make positive contributions to our world.” The goals highlighted in Puente include providing a focus on Latinx culture, history, and language, as well as helping students and families to be specifically successful by increasing the number of educationally disadvantaged students who enroll in four-year colleges and universities and earn college degrees. 

There are currently two Puente cohorts at BHS, separated into juniors and sophomores. In the fall, the sophomore cohort went to UC Berkeley’s Puente Northern California regional conference, where students participated in workshops. In the spring, Puente is planning for a college trip, a chance to explore an art school in Oakland called the Crucible with the junior cohort, as well as more events in an attempt to coalesce the two cohorts. 

“We know and the kids know that the services that Puente provides, the love, the nurturing, is something that all students at Berkeley High (School) could use,” said Xochitl Duenas, a Puente English teacher at BHS. 

Puente looks to continue to extend their services to everyone, and the program will be hosting a college knowledge event in the CCC for the BHS community soon.