Cutting Class at BHS

Archived Responses: 

My sophomore is cutting 5-6 classes a week

December 2000

I am a father of a sophomore who has recently discovered he can cut selected classes with impunity. He has heretofore been a student with a very good attendance record and high academic performance. Over the last two months we have just discovered he has an average of five to six class cuts per week. His response, I just cut classes I can't stand and are fairly useless and where the grade is not effected by absences. We would not have known had the BHS not just recently reactivated their absence phone call system. There apparently is no real consequence to cutting some classes and the school doesn't seem to have any procedure for truancy offenses. I am interested in other parents' reactions and experiences with this problem. Is this just another example of the BHS "soft anarchy" we've heard about? Does anyone have a suggestion for the best administrative person to talk with about this? It's tough holding the line as a parent with the school being so uninvolved with the truancy issue.

Regarding the truancy policy at BHS, I find it to be a strong interventional program. We were informed of our child "cutting classes" and, at the same time, the school obliged him to attend detention. While in detention, he was asked to write on the consequences of his behavior.

I think this BHS, despite being stretched with regard to resources it has, is making a strong effort and statement, not only to inform parents of problems with a student's behavior, but also to let students know what is considered responsible behavior and the consequences of other choices with regard to their actions.

I would suggest that you support the stance BHS has taken with regard to truancy. If you don't like the program, work to change it. In the 7 years I have had children at BHS, I have never met a teacher or administrator who has not been receptive to discussing problems or appreciative of suggestions, this year especially. Ask to help or volunteer and this school becomes a totally different experience from the perspective of a parent. Anonymous

Unfortunately, I have found out the hard way that BHS does not deal at all with truancy. Yes, you get a recorded phone message when your child has been absent from a class but that is it. Truancy is a problem that you, as a parent, have to deal with directly with your child and his/her counselor and teachers. But, ultimately, the problem has to be resolved between you and your child. The consequence is that with too many tardies and absences your child may fail their class(es), especially if they are not good students to begin with. Do not expect BHS to do anything except give you an attendance print out. You can ask the Attendance Office for this and then confront your child. I have found that many of the techers will help try to get your child back on track by trying to keep in contact with the student and parent but you need to get involved RIGHT AWAY. BHS is a great school for kids that are self-motivated, good students, and responsible but for a child that has tendencies to get sidetracked with other issues (drugs, alcohol, hanging out, etc.), it can be deadly. If truancy persists, you may want to consider another school, Alternative High School, Independent Studies, etc. If I could turn back the clock, I would have enrolled my son in a smaller, private school from the 9th grade, as I think it would have worked out best for him. The truancy problems began in his sophmore year but I think he needed our intervention in the 9th grade. Don't blame the school; it will not get you far to do this. Instead, connect with your son and his teachers and see if you can resolve things early. After a semester of intervention with his teachers and counselor to no avail, we decided to switch to Independent Studies this year and things are much better, and he wishes we had done this sooner. Good luck.

I have found the Attendance Office Person, I can't recall her name, to be quite helpful. I received a call when my son cut one afternoon. We had a frank discussion and my son was immediately signed up for detention the next day. Perhaps she knew me only by name, because since my son began BHS in Fall 1999, I had religiously and immediately called that office to clear all absences and medical appts. (In addition, my son always asked to make up missed classrm. and homework assignments.) In retrospect, when I received the call from the attendance office, I had realized that what my son had told me about his afternoon had not made complete sense in terms of what he had said he had done in such a short amt. of time after school. As a parent it's important to listen to your kids w/your ears open. Also look at the absences that are recorded on the progress reports that are sent home. A parent should eas! ! ily be able to figure out roughly the number of absences (field trips, medical appts., illness) over a grading period. Again, I'm assuming the teachers are keeping careful attendance. I know for my son attendance and frequently, tardiness figures into his grade for several of his classes. Lastly, I think it's important to share w/our kids that unexcused absences cost BHS in lost attendance money from the state. In summary, you can't just look at BHS to solve/ deal with the truancy problem. Anonymous

When my daughter was a sophmore she discovered "cutting" and also did it with impunity. Her excuse was "the teacher marked me absent" "I was late and we had a sub" "the teacher never showed up." Most of the time she went to Mels or Lock Stock and ate food with other people were cutting. I got fed up and went to the attendance office. They were able to print out a report which showed a breakdown of tardies and absences on a period to period basis for a number of months. All in all she had missed about 40 hours of class time in a semester. I told her she owed 40 hours of community service and had her clean animal cages at a local animal lab for 6 months every weekend to make up for all those bad teachers who didn't know how to take attendance. Needless to say, she cut about 2 times in her junior and senior year. Sign me, Anonymous

BHS was very responsive to my daughter's severe problem with cutting class at BHS. I spoke with Donna McKinney in the Attendance Office. She set up an appointment with me, my husband and my daughter. It was great. At a time when my husband and I were seen as the 'bad' guys in so many of the interactions with our daughter, we appreciated Ms. McKinney playing that role on the attendance score. She read my daughter the riot act, told her she had to have every teacher sign off on a form every period of every day. The form had to be turned in on Friday afternoons. If there were unexcused absences, my daughter had to get to the Attendance office for detention at 7AM! After this, either she had a pretty good attendance record or she got much more savvy in cutting without us knowing. In any case, she got back on track and is now in college.


October 2000

I'm the parent of a Berkeley High School freshman and I have occasion to be in the neighborhood of the high school many mornings during the week. When I'm leaving my morning appointment, between 10 and 11 am, there is generally a group or two of high school age youngsters (5 to 10 in a a group) congregating in one place or another within a half block of the BHS campus. I find myself wondering: who are these young people?; are they enrolled at BHS?; why aren't they on campus, if not in class?; why is there no one patrolling the area around the school to insure that students are where they are supposed to be? If these teenagers are, in fact, BHS students, they appear to be missing out on a substantial portion of their education by loitering in the streets. I'm baffled as to why this isn't being addressed by someone in a position of authority. I can't be the only adult/parent who has seen these groups of kids. Can someone offer an explanation? Anonymous

Having cause to be at BHS repeatedly the first month of school for meetings from 8-9 a.m., I noticed as I left a group of nice-looking girls leave campus, walk down Bancroft and sit on Berkwood-Hedge's Elementary School's front steps smoking marijuana. A loss for the kids who are out of it before 2nd period even begins, and probably not pleasing to parents/teachers of the elementary school kids. Anonymous

Suggestion for Curbing Tardiness @ BHS

My daughter attends high school at Armijo High in Fairfield. The campus covers 64 acres of land. The passing period for Armijo is 8 minutes. At the end of the passing period, the teachers close their classroom doors. Late students who do not have hall passes are directed to the "Tardy Tank". Each period a different classroom/area is designated for the Tardy Tank. The student receives an unexcused absence from the class in which he/she is late. If a student is consistently late, it will result in suspension (3-day, 5-day), Saturday School, or referral to the truancy officer/program. Teachers take role everyday in every class. Students are not given this responsibility. Tardy Tank is run by teachers, principle, site supervisors, etc. and role is also taken in Tardy Tank to account for each student. If a student does not report to tardy tank, when late, they are immediately referred to the on-site truant officer for further action. If a student reports to Tardy Tank 30 minutes late, they are directed to the counselors' office or the truant officer. If this same student appears in another class that day but did not report to Tardy Tank in previous periods and there were no scheduled doctors' appointments, that student could be suspended from school. Students cannot arrive on campus late without reporting to the attendance office with a parent/guardian or a doctor's slip. This school, ironically has an open campus during the lunch period (38 minutes), but they are seriously rethinking this issue at this moment.

Students that drive to campus, must purchase and display parking permits. Beginning this year, students were assigned designated parking. During the first period, a site supervisor checks the lot for attendance. After lunch the lot is checked again to ensure that student drivers have returned. If a car is checked in during the morning role and does not show up in the afternoon, the student's class attendance is checked, as well as Tardy Tank. If that student is not present, he/she is considered truant and the issue is pursued from there.

Both high schools in Fairfield, have a high police visibility in and around the campus. At Armijo they have hired staff called site supervisors who are paid to monitor the school grounds whenever there are school related classes/functions taking place. In addition to that, each school has a sworn police officer assigned to the high school to take care of more serious problems such as theft, vandalism, violence and other arrestable offenses.

Armijo and Fairfield High Schools each have approximately 3000 students at each school. I'm not sure how this school's size relates to that of BHS but perhaps some rules from Armijo can be beneficial to Berkeley. There are some serious drawbacks to having a high police presence at school, especially as it relates to students of color, but there has to be some solution that works so that our public schools are places of learning where students feel safe, not incarcerated. There has to be some viable middle ground. That's my two cents worth. Kimberly

Today, for the second time, I reported to the Berkeley Police Dept. and Berkeley High that there are groups of high school age youngsters frequently loitering on the stairs at the Kittredge St. garage between 10-11 am. These young people are smoking dope and blocking passage of garage patrons to access their cars. The garage attendant said she calls the police daily. The police said they'll send a patrol around to check and perhaps station someone nearby. The high school's response was "maybe they have a free period". WHAT?! When I reminded the woman who answered the phone at the high school that students are not permitted off campus during free periods, she said "really? I didn't know that." She then suggested I speak with the security office. The gentleman I spoke with in security said his people check reported incidents; there are 6 on his staff to cover 17+ acres of campus; and they are doing the best they can. He then asked if I'd like to volunteer to keep the campus secure. All this was communicated with an air of hostility and annoyance and not what I, as a parent of a BHS student, expect or want to experience from staff of the BUSD. I am attempting to express to these organizations my concern with the education these young people are missing due to a combination of truancy, drugs and lack of a coordinated enough effort by the bureacracies involved to keep them in school. There's got to be some way to see that students who are enrolled at the high school are where they're supposed to be during the day and not loitering in public areas, breaking the law, harming themselves and creating a public nuisance. I expect to be able to call my child's school and speak with someone knowledgeable about school procedures. And, as a parent and concerned citizen, I also deserve respect, if not appreciation, from the security staff we hire to protect our students. Once again, I'm dismayed by Berkeley High's response to what I see as a critical situation.

It is true, according to my daughter, that students who are not in a class are not allowed on the campus during class time. This includes the library. I can understand the supervision problem that the school is dealing with, but I don't think it's fair to the city--or the students--to kick them off the campus if they happen not to have a 3rd period, or arrive early for their first class, which might be a 2nd period.

Also, since students can only be in the library when they are in class, I haven't figured out when students can use the library. Do they have to wait until their teacher takes the whole class? Again, I understand the supervision problem (30 years ago I was nearly raped in the BHS library). Can't the staff come up with a better solution so the library can actually be a usable space for the students?


June 1999

I think it is critical for concerned Berkeley residents and BHS parents to get active about the "park problem" mentioned in the article [in the East Bay Express]. According to the article Pedro Noguero has been aware of the problem and has tried to address it, but nothing has actually been done. I've lost my son to the park culture for the last 2 years and many parents of successful students who are now over 18 or 20 have said the problem has existed for years and the only solution was to remove their child from BHS or use other major changes to intercede for their child. The school acknowledges the problem but says it's outside their jurisdiction and police acknowledge the problem but say the school should do something.

What is going on? Students are expected and encouraged to leave campus for lunch. Many don't return. The park is where most go because it's across from the school. There is often a cop at the park, but that doesn't seem a deterrent. No police or school security staff are involved in returning truant students to school. Many different drugs are used in the park. My son took pictures of them being used. My son took pictures of multiple bottles of wine going around a circle of teens. My son says you can get anything there, even if you have no money. Kids as young as 10 or 11 join these groups. My son has said he's usually under the influence with a partner in similar condition when he has sex. He often doesn't remember the details.

My son became enamored of the "gutter punks" he said hang in the park, many of whom are runaways. They have glamorized street life for him, showing him how much freedom they have, how to "spange" for spare change, and how to commit several crimes without being caught. He learned where you can sleep when you're afraid to go home while under the influence and he learned where the police never go.

Possible solutions? There is very little teens can legally do for fun in Berkeley in their free time, other than "hang out" or shop. We should develop safe and sane sites that would offer cool & interesting activities (dance, dj for a day, art, video production, sports, etc.). Truancy should not be tolerated at any grade level-both the School District and the Police Department should commit to this and follow up on it. We should not be so casual about Berkeley's kids-where they can go, what they can do, etc. They still need boundaries and guidance. We all have to get involved to find solutions. The whole community develops these kids and should act responsibly.

I hate to tell folks this, but very similar activity (to what's going on in the park at Berkeley High) is happening in Memorial Park at Albany High. There's drinking and pot-smoking going on in full view. The cops know and say it's the school's or the parents' problem. The situation's probably worse since the school was torn down and there's basically "no place to go but the park." (6/99)

I really want to second what was said about the Park - Provo. It is a great meeting place for all groups, so hanging out there should not be universally condemned. My son and his group are fine as were my two daughters before him. But as a sub at Berkeley high, I have seen kids coming back "smashed" to class after lunch if they come back at all. I am not surprised by what this person has said. I have heard and seen similar stories for years about problems at Berkeley High.

I know and speak with parent's regularly whose children are "falling off track". It's a dread illness that you hope you all survive. We need to have a group for those parents and children who are feeling isolated by the stigma this type of behavior creates. We have parents who have "successfully" survived the "park" or rather their child's teenage years. These parents could be very helpful in guiding the rest of us through these years.

Some kids get caught into this "place". It should be "cleaned up." Why are these homeless people allowed to hang out there, especially during school hours? The park is not the problem, but rather part of the problem. The larger problem is how Berkeley is aiding it's children. We are a fractionalized society. We don't have a unified community spirit. Other towns are having their own problems - look at Littleton. I think we need to start meeting to discuss what needs to be done. Our elementary school system is in shambles. The district has bought out the older, experienced teachers by giving them early retirement packages so they don't have to pay their higher salaries.

They have brought in "new, younger" teachers to bring in new blood to the schools. In some cases, it works but for the most part, these people have no clue how to address an inter-city, racially diverse population. Our own teachers who have come up through the system and gotten principal qualifications have not been hired, rather outsiders have come in who have not a clue of what needs to be done. Our superintendent (I have never seen him during the day in any classroom) got the award for being the best principal in the state - I am told for bring students back into the public school system. Our city is second behind Beverly Hills in the number of private schools. But the kids coming back are not from private schools, they are coming from Richmond, Oakland, etc. and many are adding to our own problems which we have been unable to solve. Excuse me for getting off on this "jag." You can see there is a lot to be discussed. We need to unify and come together as a community and discuss what needs to be done. The city's recreation department was virtually dismantled under Prop. 13. The parks were wonderful for the teenagers before with dances and sport and craft programs. Now the city hires only part-time workers, so there is no incentive to get qualified people with vision into the system. Our High School needs to find some way to come down hard on students who intimidate the other students and teachers. Why can't our children have shop classes? Things to involve them other than straight academics? Why can't they attend an assembly with a special guest speaker and hear him speak because an irritating group of students are talking too loud for the rest to hear? Why can't our children use the restrooms at school without being intimidated? These are just a few questions that need answers. I know no one wants to go to another meeting and this is so big it will be a vacuum we step into, but it needs to be a special task force set up by the city to address these issues and we need everyone's continued support and I don't just mean money, I mean time.

About the park. The kids could be physically removed. Not recommended. Or someone could provide something more fun at school. Unlikely. I think kids are going to be at the park no matter what is done.

I have to respond to this comment: >Why are these homeless people allowed to hang out there, especially during school hours?

Because it's a public place, and they're members of the public, like you and me. They don't lose their rights along with their homes.

The problem is not that kids are going to the park. The problem is that they're using illegal drugs and coming back to class unfit to learn, if at all. Add to that the buck-passing going on between the school district and the police, and the inattention of too many parents, and you see why nothing gets done. And more questions may come to mind: Why are we even thinking of having the police or the school district herd our kids out of the park and back into class? Aren't they our kids? Shouldn't we be herding them? How can a teacher see that a kid is "smashed" in class and not report it to the kid's parents?

Berkeley High has, as they say, "a Harvard track and a San Quentin track." There's more than one reason for this; some of them have to do with the school's size and structure, and I am glad Theresa Saunders is working to address them; but I think the biggest reason is parents' involvement, or lack thereof, in their own kids' development. -- John (6/99)

July 1999
-- in answer to why didn't I tell the parent that their child was smashed - the parent already knew. And, about the homeless. I was not speaking about the homeless as a group, but only about the ones who fight and drink in public and are violent. I regret that I did not clarify that. Thank you for pointing that out. - Linda

In response to the responses to the article in the Express re: BHS. Who expects and encourages students to leave campus at lunch? This is the first time my daughter and I have heard of it. Although she admits that it would be very crowded on campus if everyone stayed.

About the lack of enforcement of drug/alcohol laws at the Civic Center Park, I heard a dismaying opinion from a retired Berkeley Police officer at a family camp two weeks ago. He said that the police have carefully calculated which crimes involve more paperwork than they are worth to the local police force and have chosen to turn their backs the other way. I didn't really understand the criteria for worth. But, this does strike me as a big problem and I think we should demand that our children's safety and well-being be a priority for our police.

Nita (7/99)