On Wednesday, Nov. 15, the Berkeley Unified School District School Board convened, during which the BUSD superintendent recognized Berkeley’s United Against Hate Week. It aims to bring attention to and attempt to stop discrimination that many communities in the Berkeley area are facing, extending resources for people to report and receive support surrounding hate incidents. BUSD worked with the organizations Not In Our Town, the California Civil Rights Department, the Berkeley Mayor’s Office, and LA vs Hate to make the week happen.
The public comments section of the meeting sparked conversation on the controversy surrounding education regarding the Israel and Palestine conflict within BUSD. Students, parents, and teachers alike spoke up about the topic.
“We’re in a time of great repression in our district; now, what we need to do in order to make all students feel welcome is to really lean into controversial topics, following the board policy,” said Alex Day, a BHS freshman history teacher. Day was referencing the board’s policy around teaching controversial topics in schools, advocating for the board to continue to support all teachers’ rights to academic freedom.
This was a common theme, as the question of how education on Israel and Palestine ties into the school board’s policy of academic freedom for teachers, specifically when addressing controversial topics, was brought up.
School Board Director Jennifer Shanoski briefly commented on this conversation during the public comment section. “We need to consider our teachers to be professionals and experts at their craft,” Shanoski said.
The BHS Sunrise Club brought up issues pertaining to climate change and how BUSD can work to further educate about the topic and make a positive difference for the planet.
“It’s overwhelming learning about all these tragedies, not knowing what to do about them. But the thing is, we are not powerless,” said Amelia Monagle-Olson, a member of the Berkeley High Sunrise Club, who spoke during the public comments section. Mongale-Olson highlighted demands for BUSD to pass the Green New Deal for schools.
This would include BUSD providing free, healthy, lunches for students, introducing climate disaster plans and curriculums that would help students be more informed on the topic, and providing clear pathways to green jobs.
Several BHS students spoke out regarding trans students’ access to consistently available gender-neutral restrooms at BHS. The group made several requests to the school board, including that all gender-neutral bathrooms at BHS are kept unlocked, all bathrooms have functioning appliances, and that students are able to access gender-neutral restrooms no matter where they are on campus.
The students also had long-term requests regarding implementing more gender-neutral restrooms on campus and spreading awareness about the issue.
The Multilingual Learners Master Plan presented their plans to expand the Multilingual program for BUSD students. They hoped to increase English Language Proficiency and academic success for the multilingual students in BUSD and emphasized that their overarching goal for the program is to support all multilingual students and help them prepare them for college and career paths.
Alameda County (AC) Transit is hoping to alter its bus schedule in order to be as accessible as possible. “School communities are the people that we want to focus on because those are the people who are going to be the most impacted by these changes,” said Ryan Lau, the external affairs representative for AC Transit. Lau announced that the company has planned to cut certain lines and reduce coverage in the Berkeley hills in order to make more direct and frequent bus routes in other Berkeley areas.