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Gun Fears Divide Berkeley High School

Parents want more security; students say they are overreacting

Berkeley School Officials Discuss Gun Incidents

Berkeley High School, a high-achieving institution that embodies the city’s liberal politics, is seeing those values tested at gunpoint.

Since January, seven students have been arrested in gun-related incidents in and around Berkeley High — there have been four incidents involving guns in the past week and a half — which have led to heated debates over metal detectors, ID badges, a ban on gang colors and beefed-up security at a school that features a Green Academy and an international baccalaureate program.

On March 21, two students were arrested after a gun went off in a restroom. On Wednesday, the school went into lockdown after a parent reported seeing a young man carrying a gun in his waistband on the school’s perimeter. Four people, including two Berkeley High students, were detained but no weapon was found.

The issue appears to have divided many parents who are calling for more security and students who believe that their parents are overreacting.

During a Berkeley school board meeting Wednesday night, Lias Djili, the board’s student representative, cautioned against making drastic changes.

“If you look at the human body, it is very rare that the disease is what kills,” Djili said. “It is the immune system’s response to it. Our overreaction can end up hurting more than it helps.”

His comment drew a loud and dismissive snort from a mother who minutes earlier had advocated for more security.

“Parents run this school,” Jana Wilcher, a junior, said in an interview before the meeting. “They like to overdo it.”

But many parents say the issue can no longer be ignored. At a tense “Parent Forum on Weapons” Monday night, the assistant district attorney in charge of Alameda County’s juvenile justice division told a crowd of about 400 people that the community was not being realistic about the level of crime at Berkeley High.

“There are a lot of dangerous people here,” said Matthew Golde, the prosecutor, according to the online news organization Berkeleyside.

Surveillance cameras cover 95 percent of the 14-acre campus and Berkeley High has 14 security guards, but some parents say the campus is too open, with students and sometimes strangers coming and going.

“I feel like there are good things about Berkeley being so liberal,” Marina Negrin, whose daughter is a freshman, said after Wednesday’s school board meeting. “But at the same time, having such an open campus — it’s not safe. They’re kids.”

Joyce Fleming, whose daughter attends Berkeley High, said she was chaperoning a group of students from the international program to the Berkeley Repertory Theater on Wednesday when she learned that the school was in lockdown because of another gun-related incident.

“I wanted to vomit,” Fleming said. “My blood has been boiling all the last week. I’m scared for my daughter; I’m scared for her friends; I’m scared for her teachers.”

This article also appears in the Bay Area edition of The New York Times.

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