On Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, the Berkeley Unified School District School Board convened, beginning with the announcement of the meeting’s agenda, made by Laura Babitt, the president of the board. Babitt said there would be an update on reparations for the dehumanization of Black people in America, another update regarding the African American Success Framework, as well as 30 minutes of public comment at the beginning of the meeting, and then again at the end.
Babitt then spoke about her time as president of the board and discussed how much BUSD has achieved during her year of presidency, later announcing that she would pass the presidency to Ana Vasudeo. Vasudeo currently serves as a Board Director.
Superintendent Enikia Ford Morthel was not in person due to illness but joined the meeting online. Ford Morthel expressed her appreciation for the public and thanked and recognized Babbit. She also listed all the accomplishments from the past year that Babbitt was associated with, then welcomed Vasudeo to her new presidency.
Superintendent Ford Morthel also announced the opening of the Berkeley High School Wellness Center, which will expand resources to students. She highlighted the upcoming new resources the center provides, also mentioning upcoming events like the holiday meal and the giving out of free toys and games for kids.
The superintendent announced that the meeting would provide an update on the literacy report, updating the district’s reading website, and a forecast on the district’s budget.
The board then moved on to the first round of public comment, beginning with in-person students. First, a BHS student, October Hertenstein, expressed their concern with the bathrooms at BHS. On behalf of trans students at BHS, Hertenstein said, “Using the restroom (at BHS) continues to be an uncomfortable and tedious experience for me and other trans students every single day. The conditions are nothing less than a nightmare.”
Recently, many gender-nonconforming students have presented to the BUSD School Board about wanting the gender-neutral bathrooms to stay unlocked for the entire day, and for there to be working sinks in every bathroom, among other requests.
A few students and community members, including BHS junior Andrew Regan, mentioned their gratitude toward the board for voting yes on disability awareness month. Regan said, “I have been a BUSD student consistently since I was five years old, and I’m currently a junior at BHS. I would first like to state that I am completely in favor of the disability awareness month resolution and encourage you to vote yes on it this evening.”
Several community members then went on to mention their distress that the College Bound program, a program that aims to provide families with college-related resources, was in jeopardy. Darryl Bartlow, a BUSD parent, expressed his concern by telling the board how much the program benefited his daughter.
Bartlow said, “On March 8, 2023, my daughter Lillia Bartlow appeared before you. She articulated the benefits that she received from the College Bound Academy. On March 17, she died.” Bartlow expressed his gratitude toward the board for the support the Bartlow family received during this time, and he shared how much College Bound meant for his daughter. A mother and son also shared their experience with the program and how it is crucial for many students, especially students of color.
The school board then went on to hear from the district committees, each given five minutes to present their comments or concerns. This time began with the Gender Equity and Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee (GESHAC) which was followed by the Parental Advisory Committee (PAC).
From PAC, a co-chair for the 2023-24 PAC, an update on their meetings and the progress they have made was shared. PAC began its planning for the academic year over the summer, with the task of advising on a three-year plan. Their concerns are that they have not received a report of the implementation of the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), a tool for local educational agencies, to set goals, plan action, and leverage resources to meet their goals for September or November this year.
They see the joint committee meetings as one-way communication which makes it harder for them to get their needs met from the board. The presenters shared that the district-wide plan is best actualized by progressing on goals at the site level. Furthermore, PAC has not gotten updates from the schools on LCAP’s progress.
Then, board member comments were shared. Babitt began the commentary by addressing the success of the Berkeley Adult School and acknowledged the opening of the BHS Wellness Center.
Babitt also made the public aware of the teacher parking permit that is to be passed with sufficient parent and educator votes. This will allow teachers to have eight hour parking permits around school areas so that they don’t have to worry about moving their vehicles during the workday.
After the members commented, the meeting was adjourned for a small break.
After the break, a group of presenters from members of the superintendent’s Reparations Task Force provided an update on their recent work. They began their slideshow with their mission, then introduced their presenters, and provided the historical context of the making of the task force.
Various other groups presented from their organizations and described their recent work, and the meeting concluded with the second round of public comment.