On Wednesday, December 16, Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) held its annual school board organizational meeting to approve the 2021 agenda and swear in new members to the board.
Replacing last year’s school board directors Judy Appel and Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, Ana Vasudeo and Laura Babitt were sworn in as the new directors.
Babitt was sworn in first, by the Berkeley City Clerk. After completing her oath, she thanked those who helped her through her campaign and addressed the City of Berkeley. “I am so honored that Berkeley has supported me with their votes,” she said. “I am ready to get to work for our children.”
Babitt then listed a few of the issues she hopes to address as school board director. “Providing outcome-oriented budgeting, outdoor classrooms and green schoolyards, special education reform, addressing an anti-Blackness or an implicit bias, [and] implementing accountability structures to ensure our programs and services are delivered through the lens of equity for all students,” she said.
After Babitt’s acceptance speech, Vasudeo was sworn in by previous board director Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, in Spanish. She, too, began her acceptance speech by thanking Berkeley voters and those who helped her through her campaign. Vasudeo also shared her values for decision-making on the board, saying, “In order to be a successful school board director, it’s important to always put students’ needs first.” She then addressed BUSD students directly and stated, “To our students who are here tonight, you give me the energy and the inspiration to fight for an education system that works for all of us.”
The 2021 meeting calendar was approved, and was followed by a section of public comments shortly after, most of which regarded the reopening of Berkeley schools.
Third grade BUSD teacher Regina Chagolla said the transition to a hybrid model will be very difficult for Berkeley schools due to a lack of teachers. “With the staff we have, meeting the very needs of thousands of elementary families remain a huge challenge,” stated Chagolla.
Yvette Felarca, a teacher at King Middle School, claimed, “It’s clear that Berkeley Unified should and needs to shut down the Phase 1 programs at Malcolm X, Jefferson, and Rosa Parks Elementary Schools that return students back to school with adults and children from outside their immediate household for hours at a time every day. Opening schools was a pillar of Trump’s economic policy, [and] playing Russian Roulette with children’s lives … shouldn’t be a part of Berkeley Unified’s or anyone else’s.”
Felarca mentioned that she spoke with families that had children who were recommended for the in-person learning program; many were scared they would be penalized for not sending their children back to school. She closed her comment with, “I ask Mr. Stevens and the school board if you will be able to live with yourself if and when we lose a child or a child’s family member to COVID as a result of this irresponsible Phase 1 program. It’s time to close them down.”
After the public comments section, a slideshow was presented about the reopening of schools. Superintendent Stevens shared statistics on the number of cases BUSD has seen over the course of the pandemic, as well as information about staff and student testing options and on-campus logistics. Stevens announced that BUSD is finalizing the hybrid model plan, and will present it to Alameda County shortly after winter break. Director Julie Sinai commented, “I hope the minute January 4 hits, we get that dialogue back at the table so that when and if we are permitted to open … we are resolved as much as we can be to move forward.”