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Berkeley Elementary Schools Will Return to Five Days a Week of In-Person Instruction

BUSD and BFT recently announced that optional in-person instruction will be available for kindergarten through second grade students beginning on March 29.

After the recent decision for Berkeley teachers to return to in-person instruction once vaccinated,  the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) and Berkeley Federation of Teachers (BFT) have now shared a rough hybrid instructional plan for elementary schools. 

As previously agreed, transitional kindergarten through second grade students will return on March 29, with the rest of elementary school students returning on April 12. The new plan allows for five days a week of in-person instruction for those who want it, and an ability to opt out and continue fully virtual instruction for other families. 

The exact schedule has yet to be decided, and the agreement also must be ratified, but it will consist of approximately five hours of instruction each day, in addition to an after care program. Although families can opt in or out of hybrid instruction, in BUSD’s most recent survey, 90 percent of families said they would send their elementary school children back in person. Teachers, on the other hand, will be required to return once vaccinated, unless they have a special exemption. 

Multiple safety precautions will be in place, such as ventilation and other facilities updates, social distancing (four feet between students and six between teachers and students), and possibly a staggered start to the school day. 

While the plan has been in development for months, BUSD was previously planning for much less time on campus for students. In a February survey, Superintendent Brent Stephens shared two possible plans, one consisting of two afternoons per week and the other two full school days. 

According to Stephens, teacher vaccinations were a large factor in the decision to expand in-person instructional time. 

“It really has made a difference to a lot of our individual educators to know that their personal risk is diminished,” said Stephens. “It also is reflective of the really hard work with BFT to just continue to listen to the community and what parents are hoping for as we return to campus.”

There have also been mounting pressures from parent groups around Berkeley for a rapid return to school. It is difficult to know what the implications of this decision will be, both for other schools in Berkeley and other local districts. While Stephens does not anticipate a return on this scale for secondary schools, details of a hybrid plan have not been finalized.

“I have tried to be really transparent with the community that our middle and high schools are more complicated than our elementary schools,” said Stephens. “The schedule is very different, and the number of groups that students are in during their school day is also very different, and those things are very relevant to the way we design an in-person experience that is safe for everybody on campus.”

Stephens also emphasized the importance of BUSD’s labor partners — BFT and Berkeley’s classified staff union, the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees — as well as the City of Berkeley in making this decision, and the vaccination process, possible for the district. 

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