Tampa Bay attorney Barry Cohen and Berkeley Prep war of words over security

12:02 AM, Dec 22, 2012   |    comments
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Tampa, FL -- Prominent Tampa attorney Barry Cohen is known for expressing strong opinions. But his public war of words this week with Berkeley Prep School has dragged him into the court of public opinion.

Cohen isn't just a big lawyer in town. He's also a father. His son goes to school at Berkeley, where even from the outside, it's clear they have cameras, a fence, and guards.

But following the tragic events in Newtown, Conn. last week, Cohen questions whether it's enough.

No doubt a lot of parents and principals have been privately talking about security concerns at their children's schools this week. But at the austere Berkeley Prep, the discussion turned into a public email battle between Cohen and the school's headmaster.

Cohen says shortly after the tragedy in Newtown, he felt like it was time to re-address security concerns he'd brought to the school's attention about a year ago.

"What we want is to deter and make damn sure we stop any misfit from trying to kill our children, like what happened at Sandy Hook," he wrote.

But in addition to sharing his thoughts privately with school officials, Cohen sent the email to just about every other parent on the school's contact list.

"It is our expectation that the school and our families work together in a culture of mutual respect," said Jeremy Canady, Berkeley Prep's Director of Communications.

Cohen's tactic was not well received.

Berkeley responded by sending its own note to parents, blasting Cohen for the blanket email, and vehemently disagreeing with his assertion that the school's security is somehow lacking.

"We're constantly assessing our campus security measures to make sure that our standards of safety meet and exceed the expectations of our families," said Canady.

Berkeley parents caught in the middle of the email exchange say they're not too happy about it.

"It was inappropriate to handle it in that manner," said a woman leaving the school with their child Friday.

Cohen says Berkeley has even gone so far as to vaguely threaten to kick his son out if he keeps it up. 

But the high-profile attorney says he's not intimidated. Instead, he responded by writing another mass email, saying "It appears to be the kind of bullying that Berkeley proudly claims to have zero tolerance."

Cohen pointed to a particular school in Illinois and said Berkeley should similarly adopt the latest measures possible - sparing no expense.

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