Should Parents be Notified about Fires at School?

Oct 2000

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: " 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 setter. Anonymous

For clarification - the fire in the portables occurred September 7. The students were informed of it in the Students' Daily Bulletin. Unfortunately, we had not been able to set up the bulletin to go out on the etree at that time or the information would have been provided immediately. Now that we have the bulletin on a regular basis from Belinda Floyd - who has been wonderfully helpful, communications should improve. Joan

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. --jahlee

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 tardy. Thank you "Jacket" and "Parents of Teens" for keeping us informed.