Beverly Hills School Board Addresses Student Behavior Crisis

Beverly Hills United School District (BHUSD) Board of Education members are concerned about bullying and considering discipline strategies for students demonstrating behavioral problems.

In a comprehensive presentation delivered during the Board of Education’s April 25 meeting, Superintendent Dr. Michael Bregy discussed the ways in which student behavior has worsened since before the pandemic.

“We are going through a shifting environment in our school district–not only here but all over the country,” Bregy said.

Bregy suggested strategies for responding to disruptive students, including offering alternatives to suspension, holding weekly or biweekly classes for parents and improving lines of communication.

He spoke of a brief video clip showing students at Westfield Century City mall whose behavior was “horrendous.” He also discussed a student who reportedly stole a tip jar off a cash register from a store on Beverly Boulevard.

The Century City video shows Beverly Hills middle school students engaging in a fight with students from schools outside the district. The 30-45-second clip was taken a couple of weeks ago and also captures a young person reacting disrespectfully to a parent who attempted to intervene.

“These are the types of things we take so personally because they are our students,” Bregy said. “We feel that responsibility.”

The BHUSD superintendent recommended collecting data that will support the objective of reducing student suspensions. He recommended the formation of an advisory council composed of faith leaders, business owners, school staff, parents, and other community members to address the problem.

“We’re recognizing increased behavior issues out there with the kids and not just in school but out in the community and we are going to be addressing that in a more focused way by having this advisory committee and looking at our procedures at the school,”Board Member Mary Wells said.

Echoing Bregy’s report, several local parents during the public comment segment offered personal examples of classroom bullying. They discussed the spread of antisemitic slurs and bullying at the district’s Horace Mann Elementary School and Beverly Hills High School. One mother appeared in person with her fifth-grade son and said he witnessed a classmate at Horace Mann drawing a swastika. The son spoke before the school board, saying he was hurt by the experience. The mother suggested bringing Holocaust survivors into classrooms to educate students about history.

The meeting kicked off with the recurring Teacher/Student Spotlight segment. Horace Mann Elementary School independent study teacher Ellen Kwon appeared in a “Now Noah Knows” video with Board President Noah Margo and discussed effective learning techniques used by fourth graders when doing addition, subtraction and multiplication.

Several board members and district staff persons–including Bregy and Margo–participated virtually in the three-hour meeting because they were in Washington D.C. for the Coast2Coast Federal Advocacy conference, held April 24-26.

The Beverly Hills school leaders were in the nation’s capital pushing for an increase in federal funding for special education in the district. Currently, 5%of funding for special education in BHUSD is provided federally. District leaders are seeking an increase and have been advocating for it in Congress, they said.

“We’re representing our community, our district, in Washington,” Margo said.

During the session, the school board approved a resolution allowing the body to continue holding virtual meetings in light of COVID-19. Each month, the Beverly Hills school board must pass a resolution to continue to hold virtual meetings because of the statewide Brown Act that says local legislative agency meetings must be open and public so that anybody can attend.

The approved resolution says the California governor’s “declaration of a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic remains active.”

“I’m a ‘yes,'” Margo said when voting on the resolution, “and if it had been a ‘no,’ I wonder if this Zoom would’ve shut off.”

The board also approved a five-year contract with Vantage Technology Consulting Group, a technology services consultant, in connection with bond programs Measures E and BH. The approval followed the issuing of a request-for-quote to procure a firm to provide necessary technology consulting for ongoing and future bond programs. The associated costs will be paid by Measure BH funds.

“Thank you very much for going out for this RFQ so that we have competitive pricing,” Wells, an outspoken advocate for more efficient management of Measures E and BH, said. “I really appreciate it.”

Additionally, the board approved an amendment allocating more than $400,000 in additional funds for materials testing and inspection services for Beverly Hills High School’s renovation; rejected bids for the Wellness Center project at Beverly Vista Middle School; and expanded the scope of services listed in the rate sheet for the El Rodeo Elementary School construction project.

The purpose of updating the El Rodeo rate sheet, assistant superintendent Raphael Guzman explained, is to match services listed in the contract with what’s eventually included on the invoice.

“We wanted to be clearer in our invoicing protocols,” he said.

The board, meanwhile, authorized architectural firms as well as materials testing and inspection services for as-needed deliverables associated with Measures E and BH over the next five years. A selection committee, which featured district employees and team members from bond manager Fonder Salari, were involved in narrowing 14 architectural firms down to the final ten included in the pool. In the case of the materials testing firms, seven companies submitted qualification packages, and the selection committee selected all seven.

The district does not have any contractual obligation to utilize the services of any of the selected firms nor does it bear any fiscal impact from the procurement of the pools.

“We’re trying to build a good pool of architects for us to be able to select from, so if we have any projects that need to be designed, we have this group of architects,” Guzman said.

The contract approvals gave Wells confidence in the processes surrounding the construction projects associated with Measures E and BH, which allocated $334 million and $385 million, respectively, for renovations and modernization of the district’s schools.

“From a construction standpoint, our new construction management team is really working and evidence of that is the approval of the RFQ [Request for Qualifications] for all these different vendors, which ultimately provides a better quality product at better pricing [along with] better oversight and transparency,” Wells said, “which is what we wanted.”

With only two more meetings left in her role on the school board, student member Alix Bodden provided an update on recent happenings in the district, from a “Women in Leadership”‘ panel to an instrumental music concert with high school students. Meanwhile, board member Rochelle Marcus spoke of upcoming community events, including the Beverly Hills Police Department’s annual pancake breakfast, on May 7, and an open house with the Beverly Hills Fire Department, on May 13.

Upcoming Beverly Hills school board meetings are scheduled for May 9 and May 23.