Berkeley High School is considering a controversial proposal to eliminate science labs and the five science teachers who teach them to free up more resources to help struggling students.
The proposal to put the science-lab cuts on the table was approved recently by Berkeley High’s School Governance Council, a body of teachers, parents, and students who oversee a plan to change the structure of the high school to address Berkeley’s dismal racial achievement gap, where white students are doing far better than the state average while black and Latino students are doing worse.
Paul Gibson, an alternate parent representative on the School Governance Council, said that information presented at council meetings suggests that the science labs were largely classes for white students. He said the decision to consider cutting the labs in order to redirect resources to underperforming students was virtually unanimous.
Science teachers were understandably horrified by the proposal. “The majority of the science department believes that this major policy decision affecting the entire student body, the faculty, and the community has been made without any notification, without a hearing,” said Mardi Sicular-Mertens, the senior member of Berkeley High School’s science department, at last week’s school board meeting.
Sincular-Mertens, who has taught science at BHS for 24 years, said the possible cuts will impact her black students as well. She says there are twelve African-American males in her AP classes and that her four environmental science classes are 17.5 percent African American and 13.9 percent Latino. “As teachers, we are greatly saddened at the thought of losing the opportunity to help all of our students master the skills they need to find satisfaction and success in their education,” she told the board.
The full plan to close the racial achievement gap by altering the structure of the high school is known as the High School Redesign. It will come before the Berkeley School Board as an information item at its January 13 meeting. Generally, such agenda items are passed without debate, but if the school board chooses to play a more direct role in the High School Redesign, it could bring the item back as an action item at a future meeting.
School district spokesman Mark Coplan directed inquiries about the redesign to Richard Ng, the principal’s assistant at Berkeley High and member of the School Governance Council. Ng did not return repeated calls for comment.