The March 24 Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) school board meeting included conversations about school reopening in the fall, possible reopenings later this school year, and the spike in violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community that has been observed over the past months. There was also a condemnation of the Atlanta Spa-Shootings that occurred on Tuesday, March 16, which resulted in the deaths of eight people, six of whom were Asian women.
Multiple members of the school board delivered statements addressing the mass shooting in Atlanta that occurred last month, as well as the severe uptick in violence against the AAPI community. Board Director Ana Vasudeo stated, “This pandemic is both a pandemic of COVID-19, and a pandemic of white supremacy… To our AAPI families, please know that you are not alone in denouncing these painful and hurtful acts of violence towards your community. I stand in solidarity with you, and am proud to have worked with local AAPI leaders in drafting a resolution for BUSD to denounce hate crimes and bigotry targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.”
Public comment near the beginning of the meeting was very divided on the issue of school reopening, and when it needs to happen. Many people demanded that the School Board President Ty Alper resign from his position due to failure to communicate, lack of representing the views of the district’s parents, and for not pushing hard enough to reopen schools. One public comment was, “I am calling for Ty Alper to resign after his comments last board meeting. He said that he is aligned with teachers, not families. Alper has violated his oath of office – he swore to represent the electorate and uphold the constitution, not [the Berkeley Federation of Teachers]. It is clear students of all ages should be on campus to the maximum extent possible now.”
Another speaker calling for Alper’s resignation expressed, “After a year, [Alper is] out of excuses to open schools five days a week, K-12.” Others came to Alper’s defense. “President Alper, Board, you and I disagree on some things, but I call for you to not resign and instead to keep listening to parents and putting investments into distance learning,” said one speaker.
Some were vehemently opposed to returning to in-person schooling. As Martin Luther King Middle School teacher Yvette Felarca expressed, “There is no way the middle and high school should open full time. If that happens, there will be blood on the hands of the school board, of the Superintendent, and also of the people in the community who are pushing to endanger children who are not vaccinated. [This is not a matter of] if they get COVID, but when they get COVID, and when they bring it home.”
In terms of future school reopenings, BUSD stated that they have every intention to return to full time, in-person school in the fall, especially considering the updated safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Student Director Miles Miller also brought up possible campus tours for rising tenth graders as the fall approaches. “Something we can add on to the after school offerings is Freshman year tours. I understand that we cannot do a full capacity orientation, but many freshman families have expressed that they want their kids to know campus before they become sophomores next year. I also know that we have organizations such as Link Leaders and Leadership that already have student volunteers who plan those kinds of training. This is really something to look into,” said Miller. This plan could be highly beneficial for new students who have had no on-campus experience.
BUSD has also recently reopened elementary and middle schools over the past couple of weeks, with a modified, opt-in high school schedule being implemented as well. Berkeley Unified is confident on a full reopening in the fall, allowing students to look forward to a relatively normal 2021-22 school year.