Berkeley High student safety at risk, scathing new report says

The BHS safety plan "is fundamentally flawed. It should not be used as a reference or guide in emergency situations," the authors contend.

Berkeley High student safety at risk, scathing new report says
Berkeley High students chat during the lunch break outside a school entrance on Milvia Street on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022. Emilie Raguso/The Berkeley Scanner

Berkeley High School's safety plan is "fundamentally flawed" with "'safety gaps that pose considerable risk to students and staff," a new report says.

The Berkeley High School Safety Committee — which is made up of parents, teachers, school staff and a student — is set to discuss the 21-page draft report in a public meeting Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.

The report, which just became public in recent days, is set to go to the Berkeley School Board for review this month.

Committee members wrote that they had been working to address the issues — in advance of a March 1 deadline — but had been "blocked" by school administrators in recent months.

"After a productive fall, our work with the BHS administration toward completion of this year’s plan has been blocked by the BHS administrative team," wrote the safety committee officers who authored the draft report. "Principal Juan Raygoza has told us directly that he intends to take control of the revision process, submitting a plan that contains only those revisions that he approves."

Neither Principal Raygoza nor the Berkeley Unified School District responded to media inquiries from The Scanner this week.

The BHS Safety Committee spent a year reviewing the existing safety plan, ultimately coming to the conclusion that it was "inadequate and fails to meet the required standards."

The draft report includes an assessment of the safety gaps as well as detailed recommendations about how to address them.

The committee found 10 major areas in need of improvement, "from emergency preparedness to incident response protocols."

As it stands, the plan does not comply with the California Education Code, the authors contend.

The "critical shortcomings" in the BHS safety plan include missing emergency drill information, inaccurate descriptions of disciplinary rules, a lack of input from key stakeholders and an overall "non-conformity with safety best practices," according to the report.

In addition to the safety risks, the report calls out other issues with the plan including "extensive irrelevant, cut-and-paste content, while crucial safety planning information is missing."

As a result, the authors wrote, "The plan contains multiple errors, such as incorrect identification of teacher and staff unions… and references to non-existent school officers and personnel."

Those errors and omissions are "likely to have real effects," the authors continued: "Our interviews with school leaders demonstrated that no school leader currently at BHS has been tasked to plan how school will handle an incident requiring students and staff to leave the campus; no materials have been collected, no training has taken place, and no drills have been conducted."

Report to the BUSD Board of Directors

The report also calls out communication on- and off-campus as a serious issue.

In addition to the "variable audibility of the school's loudspeaker system," the authors wrote, "The faculty has voiced specific concerns regarding the reliability of receiving crucial safety communications during emergencies, emphasizing the need for a more robust and accessible communication system."

According to the draft report, the school has no way to reach students if they happen to be off-campus during school hours in an emergency.

The lack of reliable cell service on and around campus — it's a well-known Berkeley dead zone, particularly for Verizon — is also likely to pose major challenges during an emergency.

The authors also call out the "absence of both a full campus evacuation plan and a family reunification plan."

The report urges Berkeley High to adopt a text-based system "to broadcast urgent notifications and updates" to the school community. That would cost less than $2 per family annually, the authors note.

The BHS Safety Plan was approved last year. The deadline for updates by the School Board is looming.

"The administration's refusal to engage meaningfully has made it impossible to complete the revisions by the March 1 deadline," the authors wrote.

On Monday, School Board President Ana Vasudeo told The Scanner that the board is aware of the parents' concerns and taking them seriously. She also said she was grateful for their work.

Vasudeo said the district has been working to tackle safety issues in a more comprehensive way, including hiring a new BUSD safety and risk coordinator who will be at Tuesday's meeting.

Vasudeo said the district will also hold its first district-wide meeting about safety planning on Feb. 27 at 5 p.m. at the school district office at 2020 Bonar St.

"It's the beginning of a coordinated conversation," she said.

The district's work will build in part on a resolution the School Board approved in 2022, after Uvalde, that focused on school safety.

"These are important steps in the district’s continued efforts to protect our students and education workers," said Vasudeo, who will also attend Tuesday's meeting at Berkeley High. "We know there is more work to do."

The Safety Committee meets Tuesday, Feb. 6, at 4:30 p.m., in the Berkeley High library. Review the Feb. 6 agenda. Keep up with the BHS School Safety Committee through its public Google Doc.

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