Berkeley school district cancels March community events, keeps schools open

File of Berkeley High School.
Chen Gong/File
As a result of the rise of COVID-19 cases in the region, Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Brent Stephens recommends distance learning as the school board's method of instruction for the fall semester.

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The Berkeley community was notified in a press release Tuesday by the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, that large BUSD events are canceled through the end of March but schools will remain open.

This decision was in response to the city of Berkeley receiving new guidance from Berkeley health officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez, which aligns with guidance issued by the Alameda County Public Health Department. According to the guidance, the city recommends postponing or canceling nonessential mass gatherings and large community events.

BUSD community events that are canceled include the Black History Oratorical Fest originally scheduled for March 19 and the Performing Arts Showcase originally scheduled for March 22.

BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens added in the press release that out of caution, he has asked that school assemblies, performances and evening gatherings at schools, such as PTA gatherings and open houses, scheduled to take place in March be canceled.

Field trips and a majority of athletic events will proceed, but some large sports events may have to be canceled if they fall into the public health guidance.

All BUSD schools will remain open, as recommended by the city of Berkeley.

“The reason we are not recommending school closures at this time is because there are no lab-confirmed cases of community spread in Berkeley and children have not been shown to be a high-risk group for serious illness from this virus,” Hernandez said in a city press release. “As much as possible, children should be allowed to carry on with their education activities.”

There is a possibility of school closure if a student, teacher or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 and exposes others at the school, according to the BUSD press release. BUSD is working on plans to address this possibility and will communicate further details to the community later this week.

The practice of “social distancing” is encouraged and is intended to limit community spread and protect vulnerable members of the community.

The BUSD press release also added that BUSD board meetings and committee meetings will continue to be held. The district is exploring options for optional participation by teleconference. The community is invited to watch the board meetings on YouTube.

The upcoming board meeting will provide updates on BUSD preparations in response to COVID-19, present a plan for community engagement related to the middle school student assignment policy and review planned reductions and priorities for the general fund budget.

“All of us at BUSD appreciate your patience and understanding as we confront this unprecedented situation,” the BUSD press release reads.

Check for live updates here.

Thao Nguyen is a deputy news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @tnguyen_dc.