Visitors to Berkeley High School will now have to show photo identification to enter the campus.
The change, being implemented this month, comes with the introduction of added security measures at BHS, following a survey of high school safety in neighboring school districts.
“It’s to make sure people visiting the campus are checked in and we know who they are and where they are going,” Berkeley High principal Jim Slemp told the Planet. “We are in the middle of a large urban area and the children are in our protection. Let’s say there is a parent who has a restraining order. We need to make sure we don’t let them on campus. Or maybe it’s someone who has no business being on campus. The safety of our students and staff comes first.”
Slemp added that although some school campuses hold on to visitor IDs until people signed out, Berkeley High would only require them during check-in.
“If a visitor does not have any kind of an ID or has forgotten it at home, we’ll probably talk to them,” he said. “It’ll be dealt with on an individual basis.”
Until now, only Berkeley High staff was required to have photo identification on them. Students carry IDs but are not generally required to show them.
When parents visit, volunteers at the front desk check their last name with that of the student and provide them with a stick-on badge. When officers see the visitor’s badge, they are allowed to pass through the hallways uninterrupted.
“We get 30 to 40 people dropping by everyday,” BHS parent coordinator Janet Huseby said last Friday. “Today we had representatives from three or four colleges, the elevator repair guy and parents picking up transcripts. There’s a huge list of people ... it’s just like a small city.”
BUSD spokesperson Mark Coplan said that the school also got a lot of press and visitors from other schools. He added that no one under 21 was allowed to visit the campus without an adult.
“In the past, it’s always been adequate,” Coplan said. “But evidently the time has come for change. You can’t just come to the high school and wander around. You have to have a reason to be there.”
Reactions to the new policy—aspects of which already have been implemented and will be announced to the school community in the next couple of weeks—has been mixed.
“Since we have had assaults on campus I think it’s a good idea,” said BHS parent Liz Scherer, “but if they had a way to make sure that non-students don’t have easy access to the school that would be even better. I am more in favor of student IDs that can be quickly shown when kids come into the campus since police often fail to identify suspects involved in fights.”
School board student director Rio Bauce said the policy should be been put through an evaluation period.
“I understand the concern for making sure that people from outside don’t come into the school, but at the same time it’s a big measure,” he said. “Parents often do not carry their IDs with them and it would be an awful waste of time if they had to go back to their house to get them. And what about those who do not have any kind of photo ID?”
Board president Joaquin Rivera said that the policy was in line with what other schools did for security measures.
“It’s for the safety of the children,” Huseby said. “I don’t know how it will turn out, we will have to wait and see.”
BHS parent Laura Menard told the Planet that the new rule was a violation of confidentiality.
“Last week I was required to log in the reason for my visit at the front desk but this week I had to disclose it to a parent volunteer,” she said. “Parent volunteers should not be in a position to decide if campus access is authorized for another parent. Parent confidentiality could be violated by this new practice.”
Menard added that the real threat comes from the easy access for non-students to sell drugs around the school’s perimeters.
“Targeting parents who come in and voluntarily register will not solve the problem,” she said.
BHS Parent Teacher Student Association president Mark Van Krieken echoed her thoughts, “The students face more risk from high school students who come in from other campuses than from parents,” he said. “Visitors need to feel comfortable when they come to school. Right now, parents often face a lot of language and cultural barriers which keep them away.”
Slemp acknowledged that many of the security incidents on campus this year were due to non-students coming into the campus.
“We are one of the few schools that have an open campus,” he said, “Some officers from the Berkeley Police Department would like us to tell students to wear their IDs on campus, but it just doesn’t seem the right thing to do. I don’t want to repress anybody, I just want to make sure we are protecting people.”
Slemp added that the BHS safety officers could identify all the students on campus.
“They have a pretty good sense of who is a non-student,” he said. “The idea of having visitor IDs came from parents themselves. A group got together and decided this was a little way of doing what we can to make the campus safer. We don’t have a problem with people visiting the campus. But when someone tries to sneak into the campus, then it’s definitely a problem.”