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BHS Practices Lockdown Amid District-Wide Safety Upgrades

Illustration by Clara Hollowgrass

The Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) Board of Education approved a plan to allocate $2 million to School Safety Projects at their February 28 meeting. BUSD Facilities Director Timothy White proposed the plan to upgrade security measures across BUSD school campuses in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Funding will come from the 2010 Measure I bond, which is dedicated to school safety and facilities improvements.

The district will contract a team of architects and engineers to assess school sites and determine necessary upgrades. These could include improvements to exterior fencing and gates, ‘Columbine locks’ that lock on the inside of classroom doors, and alarms. Public address systems, telephones, and video cameras may also be updated.

Berkeley High School (BHS) has implemented some of its own security policies since the shooting. The A and M Gates are now locked during instructional hours. Anyone entering campus during class time must do so through the front office. Students scan their IDs, and visitors are required to check in per the existing policy. Administrators had been planning to close the A gate at some point. After the Parkland shooting, Dean of Students Kiernan Rok said, “We just decided we can’t wait. It’s a non-negotiable.”

Initially, there were concerns that students would not have their IDs, making it challenging to check everybody in. However, Rok said that most students do carry their IDs, and they are quick to scan. As Dean of Students, Rok said he appreciates the ability to check in with students who arrive to class late.

BHS is also stationing a safety officer at the G and H building breezeway entrance on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. While this location has always been a security assignment, it is being more rigorously enforced.

“A lot of times, we try to plan and plan all the things that could go wrong if we put a policy or procedure in place, and that ends up being the enemy of getting it done.  Right now, we’re implementing and problem solving as we go rather than planning and planning,” said BHS Principal Erin Schweng.

On March 6, BHS held a lockdown drill to practice for an active shooter situation. It took five minutes for the entire campus to be secured, with students clear from hallways and classroom doors barricaded. “There are widespread reports that the lockdown was taken seriously by students and staff, which I am really thankful for,” said Schweng.  Schweng said she has heard many students want to practice in every class, so that they know what to do in any given location.

The drill helped students and staff learn what safety procedures need improvement. Schweng said barricading went well in some classrooms, but in others, the door could be pushed open.

In a real active shooter situation, Schweng would use the PA system to announce specific information about the shooter’s location. Only those closest to the threat would barricade their doors and hide. Others would assess their location in relation to the threat and evacuate if possible. “What we’re grappling with right now is how to practice that, given our downtown location,” Schweng said. Another lockdown drill is planned for later this semester during after school hours.

With the elimination of two safety officer positions due to budget cuts, BHS will have thirteen safety officers next year. “What we’re looking at now is shifting people around so there’s as much coverage as possible,” said Rok. This may involve changing security guard supervision areas.

Matt McGee is the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) Resource Officer at BHS. McGee said of BPD, “We’re here more as a resource than anything.” He expressed confidence that BHS administrators are taking care to secure the school. “They have the best intentions to keep this school safe. We’re trying to work with what the community wants, as well as our expertise, to create the safest campus that we can,” McGee said.