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Violence concerns resurface at BHS

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet staff
Wednesday January 09, 2002

An alleged attack on a sophomore at Berkeley High School last month has renewed concerns about safety and security on campus. 

David Calvert, a partner at Berkeley law firm Miller Clark Calvert & Obenour, said a group of students made an unprovoked attack on his son in Building C on Dec. 13. 

According to Calvert, the students knocked down his son from behind and kicked him in the head repeatedly, leaving him with a bruised ear, cuts on the lip and nose and a dental bill totaling $1,500. Calvert said his son may lose one or two teeth. 

Marian Magid, public information consultant for the school district, said Superintendent Michele Lawrence is working on the matter directly. 

“She is very disappointed about the incident,” said Magid, speaking for Lawrence. “She has been in contact with the family, has been reviewing code and policy with staff, and is evaluating what can be done to stop such incidents.” 

“(Security) quickly became the highest priority for the high school,” said Shirley Issel, president of the Board of Education, describing the reaction to the alleged attack among district leaders. “We have a way to go before I would feel that safety is up to the standards that would be acceptable to the community.” 

Parent activists said the attack, which followed a series of assaults by students in ski masks this fall, is emblematic of a larger problem at the high school that is not being properly addressed. 

“There’s a lot of denial,” said Laura Menard, a parent who served on the school’s safety committee last year. “People don’t want to look at it, because it’s scary.” 

According to the district’s statistics, 72 crimes were reported on the high school campus last year, including more than 20 assaults. 

Natashya Brooks said her son, now a sophomore, was attacked last year by a group of students who put a box over his head and beat him. Brooks said her son is now fearful the moment he arrives at school. 

“When he gets out of the car, he does this check thing, where he looks left, right and behind,” said Brooks. 

Both Menard, who is white, and Brooks who is Asian and Native American, say they believe some of the attacks have been racially motivated, with minorities lashing out at students, like Brooks’ son, who appear white. 

But Katrina Scott-George, an African-American parent activist who taught at BHS last year, says that white students are not the only victims. 

“Nobody talks about the assaults on black kids,” said Scott-George. “It happens a lot.” 

Scott-George added that the school must do much more to win the interest of minority students and get them invested in school. 

“We need to engage the kids so it’s a place of learning, not a place where some kids are being educated and other kids are simply being contained,” said Scott-George, who as a member of a community group called the Coalition for Excellence and Equity, has called for the division of BHS into a series of small, themed schools, to create greater community. 

Brooks agreed that the schools need to nurture students of all backgrounds, and said small schools could help improve matters. But, she said the district must draw the line somewhere.  

“We’re all frustrated and angry, but we don’t have a right to go around attacking people,” she said, noting that her own children come from difficult circumstances, but have managed to avoid violence. 

Students on campus made conflicting statements Tuesday afternoon about the degree of violence on campus. One pupil, who asked not to be identified, said that there are an average of two fights per week at BHS. 

But Ainye Long, a senior, said the reports of violence are overblown. “I think safety and security is fine,” she said. “You have 3,500 teenagers all in a school together. Kids are going to be kids.” 

No matter what the degree of violence, most agreed that campus security is ineffective. “The kids just avoid the security guards,” said Leon Carr, a senior at BHS, arguing that the on-campus safety officers do not move around enough to keep students off balance. 

But vice principal Lee said campus security works well. “Any incident that is reported here, we pursue, and in most cases, it gets resolved,” he said. 

Still, Lee said, BHS is working to upgrade its security operation. For instance, he said BHS is moving toward a new system of distributing information that will inform special education teachers, guidance counselors and staff at the BHS Health Center of violent incidents, allowing them to better coordinate appropriate services for the students involved.  

Until now, Lee said, violent incidents have been handled largely in isolation, in his own office. 

Lee added that BHS will have two new deans, assigned to handle attendance and discipline issues, starting next month. He also said the school is working to fine-tune its surveillance system to cover more of the campus.