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Textbook Pick Up Raises Concerns About Equal Resource Access

On Wednesday, September 16, Berkeley High School (BHS) held one of its last rounds of curbside textbook pick up after significant disruptions due to the poor air quality from wildfires. The process raised concerns from parents, teachers, and students. Requiring families to spend an hour at school in the middle of the workday creates a considerable equity issue. 

On the most crowded days of pickup, a line of cars stretched from the intersection of Channing Way and Milvia Street down to Martin Luther King Jr. Way, around Allston, and eventually connected back to Milvia, where the textbooks were located. Once the drivers reached Milvia, the student would show a volunteer a piece of paper — through the car window, in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines — with the student’s name and ID number on it. The wait time tended to be at least one hour. 

This system raised immediate concerns for some community members. While some students can drive themselves to the pickup, many students don’t have that option, be it they don’t have a car or they don’t have a license. Furthermore, many parents cannot take time off in the middle of a workday. This means that people may not be able to make it to the pick up at all, making necessary class resources unavailable to many.

“It took an hour for me to get through that line; I’m lucky I didn’t have to work that day. Had things been different, I might not have been able to make it to the pickup,” said BHS parent Smeeta Mahanti. 

Mahanti discussed potential alternatives for Berkeley Unified School District’s (BUSD) pick up system, such converting completely to online resources, but acknowledged that this might mean a lot of additional work for teachers. “There is no easy answer,” Mahanti said. 

BHS sophomore Calder Fritz agrees that having the required resources online is the best idea. “The entire issue could be solved by teachers making sure their students have access to the resources needed for the class online. This would completely eliminate the problem,” Fritz said.

To address these issues, the BHS administration worked to create a delivery system. Principal Juan Raygoza said, “Since we knew that we could not accept walk-ups, and this would create an equity issue for students and families that do not have access to a car, before curbside pick up began we partnered with the BUSD volunteers on a “Task Runner” system that would deliver textbooks to students’ homes.” The system was a success, and many students who could not attend the scheduled pick ups were delivered textbooks.

BHS faculty have been working on this system for picking up textbooks and other resources for months now. Nicole Fitzhugh, head of the textbook library at BHS, remembers how difficult the process was. 

“We worked on different plans for registration [and] distribution through May and June, but the decision to open school with distance learning wasn’t made until the end of July, which changed our plans. Our administration had to figure out how to issue up to a year’s worth of materials on two weeks’ notice,” Fitzhugh said. “The size and scope of distribution became triple what it usually is. We had to ask people to work different, later hours, and the custodial staff had to work over the weekend before distribution,” she explained. 

Unfortunately, many students were not aware of the Task Runner system. Students have been flooded with emails over the past few weeks, so messages containing information about textbook pick up were easily missed. In the future, teachers making individual announcements during class might combat this issue.

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