Two Berkeley High families are raising concerns this week after their children were attacked by other students in front of the police station in a brazen lunchtime confrontation.
Multiple students recorded the attack on their phones and at least one of those videos was posted on a private Instagram account focused on "fight club" activities at Berkeley High, according to screenshots shared with The Berkeley Scanner.
The attack was interrupted by a Berkeley police officer who happened to be driving by, said the parents, who granted initial interviews on condition of anonymity out of concern for the privacy of the involved students.
"I don’t know how this would have ended if the police car didn’t pull up," one parent said.
The issue of youth violence, as well as the posting of it on social media, has been a growing topic of concern across the Bay Area. Just this week, the San Francisco Chronicle dug into what appears to be an alarming trend in the city and looked at what San Francisco school officials plan to do about it.
In the video of the Berkeley attack, which was shared with The Berkeley Scanner, a group of students can be seen walking down MLK outside the police station during lunch March 13.
Then numerous students, who mostly appear to be girls, swarm a female student and begin forcefully punching her in the head more than 20 times.
The students quickly separated the girl from the boy she was walking with when he tried to come to her aid. They repeatedly punched him too.
As a police officer pulls up, the group quickly breaks up as one student can be heard saying, "Who has my knife?"
The parents said the video had been hard to watch — for many reasons.
"It was terrifying to me that kids would feel so brazen to have a whole group assault in front of the police station in broad daylight," one mother said this week.
The girl who was attacked, a 10th grader at Berkeley High, said the incident had made her question her sense of safety at school as well as her trust in school officials.
"What am I supposed to do when I see people beat someone up and nothing happens to them?" she wondered. "When violence happens at school, action isn't taken like they say it is."
The parents told The Scanner that they are seeking not only consequences — including the possibility of expulsion for repeat offenders — but are also asking school officials to do more to address the online posting of similarly disturbing incidents after the fact.
They plan to address the School Board at Wednesday night's meeting and have several requests, including a new subcommittee to address school safety as well as consideration of the topic during the April 12 board meeting.
The parents have also asked for better data, tracking and transparency about violent incidents that involve students and better communication from the district to condemn such violence.
In a March 19 email to the BUSD School Board, the parents asked for an "urgent response to what we believe is a culture of violence and desperate need for intervention by district leadership. The incident occurred during lunch in front of the police station at the intersection of MLK and Addison, and there were many BHS students involved in the attack. The attack was initiated and led by the two primary attackers, one of which is a known attacker who has assaulted other Berkeley students several times before."
That pattern of alleged violence, which these and other parents have linked to one Berkeley high school student in particular, has been a key consideration for parents as they have sought swift action.
One parent — unrelated to last week's attack — told The Scanner that he was aware of at least five violent incidents involving that same student dating back at least a year. Several of them were captured on video.
"It’s not a matter of if this is going to happen again. It is a matter of when," a different parent said. "I think it would be terrible for everyone involved to have known and not acted."
The district is legally prohibited from discussing disciplinary actions related to specific students.
But Berkeley Unified spokeswoman Trish McDermott said BUSD follows the California Education Code: "We use a positive behavior matrix which details tiered interventions for types of misconduct. BUSD also has a very successful restorative justice process available to our students. The District has expanded mental health and counseling services in our schools post the pandemic. Support services can be provided based on a student’s unique needs."
In response to Scanner questions regarding what might be done about the social media posts, McDermott said BHS administrators "regularly report inappropriate social media content to Instagram and other social media platforms" but do not have control "over how social media platforms regulate their content. No district does."
She said administrators do, however, try to identify students involved in recording or posting inappropriate content, then "engage in behavioral interventions in collaboration with their parents and guardians."
Parents hope to connect with other BHS families
The parents said they have been in close contact with a number of Berkeley High School staff over the past week to come up with plans to address ongoing safety concerns and support for their kids.
But part of the challenge they've faced is that school officials are strictly prohibited from sharing much information about what they may be doing because of privacy laws that protect minors.
Part of their interest in speaking up this week, the parents said, was in the hope that they might connect with other families who have been attempting to navigate similar circumstances with BUSD.
They said they also hope that speaking up might help create momentum in their efforts to push forward in partnership with BUSD.
"We just want to raise the alarm. Everyone in the community, we need to work on this for our kids. We need to work on this as partners," one father told The Scanner on Wednesday. "We’re just frustrated that it hasn’t felt like it’s been a partnership so far."