Berkeley school district revamps online learning, adjusts grading policy

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Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Brent Stephens detailed new online security measures and grading policies in a districtwide email sent Friday.

Stephens’ email follows a “Zoombombing” incident where a Berkeley High School online class was disrupted when a man joined the class and exposed himself to students. In response to the incident, the school district temporarily suspended online instruction through Zoom and Google Meet.

“I recognize that this decision caused a lot of disruption to a plan that had only started the day before, and resulted in intense frustration and disappointment for students, families and staff,” Stephens said in the districtwide email.

To promote security and prevent similar incidents from occurring, the school district outlined a series of changes to online learning, which will be effective April 13, in the email.

These changes include not using Zoom for student instruction as the platform precludes the authentication of accounts for students who are not yet 18 years old. Teachers, however, will be allowed to schedule video conferences with students and will be restricted to Google Meet, which supports user authentication.

While Google Meet does not have the same features as Zoom, Stephens said the school district must continue to opt for the safer option.

Although Zoom will not be used for student instruction, educators and staff can continue to use the platform when students are not present, including at staff and department meetings, according to the email.

“Please know that we are in direct conversation with Zoom programmers about the importance of Zoom participant identity authentication,” Stephens said in the districtwide email. “We have assurances from the company that they will work to resolve this issue. We expect to learn more from them next week, and we will communicate more with teachers and families if this issue with Zoom is resolved.”

Stephens also provided guidance to teachers, suggesting they host smaller groups of students and that they provide office hours.

In his email, Stephens also addressed grading policies for students. More specifically, students between sixth and 12th grade will have their letter grades shifted to Pass/No Pass for the second semester.

As a result, students’ report cards will only denote whether or not a student passed a course, and GPAs will not be negatively affected.

Despite the changes, teachers will continue to collect assignments and offer feedback. They can also give students points for their work and use other features common in a regular grading system.

Additionally, teachers are still permitted to administer exams and other forms of assessments. They have also been instructed, however, to consider the ways in which COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, may exacerbate students’ learning conditions.

“I wish every one of you safety and health in this very trying time. We are experiencing a profound crisis as a community,” Stephens said in the districtwide email. “We’ll continue to do everything we can to be a strong partner in these exceptional times.”

Mallika Seshadri is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SeshadriMallika.