Berkeley High School Recommendations
Should Parents be Notified about Fires at School?
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Last night at the Back to School Night at BHS I was given a copy of
the Sept 22 edition of the Jacket. Inside there was a story with the
headline "Teacher discovers fire in portable" about a fire set on
Thursday, Sept. 7 between third and fourth periods in Portable 1.
This fire consisted of blazing papers in a cardboard box which was
discovered and put out by the history teacher, Eric Peterson. The new
principal's reaction was blasi: "...it is natural for me to see small
fires set in lockers and wastebaskets and that type of thing."
I was unpleasantly surprised to discover there had been a fire I knew
nothing about, considering that I read this newsletter, the BHS
e-tree, the Daily Planet, the Chronicle and the Contra Costa Times.
But even more disturbing was the editorial on the next page which
claimed that the administration had been asked by the police to
deliberately keep silent about the fire. So silent that even the
Jacket didn't report on the NEXT fire, which according to this
editorial (and that is the only source I have) occurred on Sept. 18
-- last week! Which is all the information they give.
I suspected that communication between school and home would be bad.
But this goes beyond that. What's going on here?
I suspect that publicizing a fire encourages copycat activities, as well as
rewards the perpetrator. ("Look what a big deal I caused without even
getting caught!") The silence is probably a tactic to take away that fuel
for the flame of publicity that could be the real motivation of the fire
For clarification - the fire in the portables occurred September 7. The students
informed of it in the Students' Daily Bulletin. Unfortunately, we had not been
set up the bulletin to go out on the etree at that time or the information would
been provided immediately. Now that we have the bulletin on a regular basis
Floyd - who has been wonderfully helpful, communications should improve.
Would you please let the parent know, who wanted to remain anonymous
regarding the fire situation, that I for one see that the police and
school do not want to give whoever is starting these fires public
gratification. There are sick souls who love the reaction of fear,
panic, anxiety and thrive on this emotional public response. I would
like to remain anonymous myself.
I suspect these fires are attempts to get attention and notoriety, and
by their nature are probably set by students. I went to public high
schools in SF. There were fires in garbage cans, in bathrooms, usually
set around football game days, and this was at Lowell High (the public
academic high school for college-bound kids only) as well as at other
public high schools around the city. There were always kids being
lawless in the City. For that very reason I believe the BHS
administration, the fire department and the police do not want to make
a big deal out of these two fires reported by the Jacket because it
will cause a media blitz, panic amongst parents, continue the
negativity and outrage expressed by this parent's e-tree comments and
others I'm sure--all aimed at destroying and tearing down BHS just
because of one, two or several arsonists versus a large population of
kids who deserve better. The school and the police need to catch the
arsonist(s), not give them constant media attention. BHS has had
enough attention given to its state of being and the fires. As a
parent, it doesn't make you feel better, but can you be at school,
patrol the hallways and catch these arsonsists? Ignore bad behavior
and sometimes it stops--works with young toddlers, perhaps it might
work with overgrown and immature teens. The fires are the reason I
would like to see security cameras on the campus, but it doesn't
guarantee that lawless and dangerous behavior will stop.
There is still the air around the school of "soft anarchy" which we
let the kids get away with by saying it's alright to be a little late
to class if you can't get up 'cuz you need more than eight hours'
sleep; it's alright to be late from lunch because you don't get enough
time for lunch, on and on. Now, how about teaching the kids how to
learn, read and write better! That's what school should be about
right now. It's extremely important to put priorities in order and I
want the principal doing that, leave the investigations of arson to
the police and fire department, and let the newspapers report what
they will, but let's get back to basics--learning.
Ignore the continuing fires, they're just "bad behavior"? Keep them a
secret and hope they'll just go away on their own? Pretend there's no
problem? If this hands off approach doesn't work, and it almost certainly
won't, then we'll be left with a high school that is pile of cinders (and
maybe that will include some of our kids). The big fire last year could
easily have had casualties. I want to know what threatens the health and
welfare of my child. I want to know exactly what fires have occurred and
when and what the administration and police are doing to stop them.
If we don't know about the fires then we can't pressure the school board and
administration, fire and police departments, and City Council to address the
problem. Other school districts don't have as many and as serious fires as
Berkeley seems to have on an ongoing basis. This problem can be solved. It
won't be solved by hiding it or pretending it's a behavior issue like being
Thank you "Jacket" and "Parents of Teens" for keeping us informed.
The opinions and statements expressed on this page
are those of parents who belong to the
UC Berkeley Parents Network and
should not be taken as a position of or endorsement by the
University of California, Berkeley.