Berkeley school district approves fall 2020 distance learning plan

BUSD meeting
Veronica Roseborough/Staff
Although all instruction will be provided through distance learning, Berkeley Unified School District will continue to offer resources such as technology support and mental health services.

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After the rise in COVID-19 cases threw a wrench in the Berkeley Unified School District board’s fall plans for hybrid instruction, the school board was quick to adapt, approving a distance learning plan at its July 29 meeting.

In addition to approving a revised budget, the board unveiled its plans for Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, schools. Although the school board is looking for a “fresh start” for fall with improved daily and weekly instruction, learning engagement, individualized schedules and consistent communication efforts, it is also returning to required attendance and previous grading systems, according to BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens.

Stephens added that elementary school families will have the opportunity to meet with teachers in person or online during the first two weeks of school to inform teachers of any circumstances that may affect a child’s education.

“We felt that this kind of interaction as children shift into new classrooms will set both children, teachers and families up for a far more productive experience over the course of distance learning,” Stephens said at the meeting.

All elementary school students will begin the day at 9 a.m. with live online instruction. This will be followed by live instruction in small groups, independent work and enrichment classes, which include visual and performing arts, science and physical education.

In addition, special education, academic intervention and English language development will be scheduled at specific times.

According to Debbie Dean, director of TK-8 schools, the middle school schedule is targeted toward students’ academic, social and emotional needs. This includes three live classes per day with the option of taking music as a zero period twice a week.

While most of the week will be dedicated to synchronous and asynchronous instruction, Wednesday will be used for independent work and small support classes for students who are struggling with the material.

Berkeley High School, or BHS, will use a different approach involving a term system with two terms per quarter for a total of eight terms, according to Juan Raygoza, interim principal of BHS. Odd-numbered classes will be offered during odd-numbered terms and vice versa.

Stephens added that although the California Interscholastic Federation has postponed fall sports for the foreseeable future, sports teams and conditioning activities can take place as long as they comply with health guidelines.

Additionally, family resources that were provided last quarter will continue to be available, including food services, Ed Hub, technology support, family support seminars and mental health services.

During public comment, many speakers voiced support for the implementation of family pods, or groups of families that meet to provide social interaction for their children.

While the district does not have an official position on pods yet, Stephens said BUSD’s involvement in the formation of pods would mean addressing many legal obligations involving accessibility, COVID-19 liability and its commitment to equity.

“The district’s efforts should be placed with far more emphasis on reopening campuses for child care and extended day programs, as opposed to putting effort into the creation of pods,” Stephens said at the meeting.

Another proposal addressed by the public was the implementation of later start times for middle and high school students. According to teacher and parent Aryn Faur, this would assist teachers and allow older children to help younger siblings without sacrificing their own educations.

To this, Stephens said the district is considering later start times but they likely would not be implemented until near the end of the first trimester in early October.

The distance learning plan was approved unanimously by the board, and BUSD officials will take suggestions and answer questions at the town hall meeting Aug. 3.

Contact Veronica Roseborough at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @v_roseborough.