On the evening of March 10, the Berkeley School Board met to discuss a variety of topics. The principal among these was Superintendent Brent Stephens’ report on the progress towards reopening schools, and the immediacy of the district’s plans. Along with this presentation came a multitude of public comments condemning these actions.
Stephens began by addressing the partnership between Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) and the City of Berkeley to vaccinate teachers and staff. “We had initially conceived of this partnership as a four-week endeavor to move through about 1600 of our employees,” said Stephens. “Through the increasing availability of vaccines in a number of locations …, we’ve been able to move through all of our vaccination groupings within about a two to three week period,” he said. Stephens then described that there were a few hundred appointments left to be made for the remaining staff.
The superintendent’s presentation then moved to discuss the mechanics of school reopenings. He noted that the timeline is on track, with groupings of students returning to school each Monday beginning on March 29, except on April 5, which is Spring Recess. Of the reopenings, only elementary schools will be opening to the full five-days-per-week instruction model, as further difficulties with scheduling and class size comparisons limit middle and high schools from reopening.
On Monday, March 8, the district sent out a binding enrollment form to families, asking for a decision on whether their student will remain in distance learning or attend in-person schooling, with the response being due the following Thursday. On the short notice, Stephens said, “This is … one of those difficult dilemmas of timing, and I offer you my sincere apology that we are both working on the details that are so essential to you making a decision while we also ask for you to begin considering this decision and ultimately make one.” He followed by saying that, if possible, there may be an opportunity for a limited number of families to change their choice four weeks following the elementary return to school.
There were a number of people during the public comments period at the beginning of the meeting who expressed deep concerns about the move to reopen schools. Many worried that sending students back to school would result in a spike in COVID-19 cases, endangering teachers, students, and their families.
They also voiced apprehension that the reopening would result in discrimination against families who have fewer resources, and thus less choice around whether their kids return to in-person schooling. Additionally, some were asking whether there had been adequate consideration given to those in special education programs, as well as English language learners.
After Superintendent Stephens’ update, Director of Special Education Services Shawn Mansanger, with the help of his team, gave a presentation about their progress with the provision of special education services during distance learning and going into school reopening.
Among the motions discussed towards the beginning of the meeting was Resolution 21-032. This resolution designates the dates of March 21 through April 10 as the César Chávez and Dolores Huerta Commemorative Period for the City of Berkeley. The full board passed their consent on this resolution, among others.
During the closed session of the board meeting, staff were appointed to various positions within the district. At Berkeley High School (BHS), these appointments were for Juan Raygoza as principal, Kiernan Rok as assistant principal, and Claudia Gonzalez as the dean of students.Finally, the members of the student executive team at the BHS Parent Student Teacher Association (PTSA) presented. They mainly discussed the launching of the PTSA’s new website, as well as the Black History Month Art Contest that was recently hosted.