Berkeley school district updates fall plans for special education students

Berkeley High School
Sunny Shen/File
After a shift from its original hybrid instruction plan, Berkeley Unified School District’s new distance learning plan calls for students and families to have consistent schedules with more live interaction and engaging curriculum.

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Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, officials provided updates on distance learning plans for students in special education programs during an online town hall Monday.

The school board announced a shift in plans from hybrid learning to fully remote instruction in July after observing rising COVID-19 rates in Alameda County. According to BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens, the district has since put together an equity-minded distance learning plan.

“Our commitment to equity was challenged in a number of ways that had to do with issues related to access to technology,” Stephens said during the event. “We experienced issues in the provision of special education services and English language development as well.”

The district’s new distance learning plan calls for students and families to have consistent daily and weekly schedules with more live interaction and engaging curriculum. Special education teachers will be able to collaborate with other classroom teachers so that students have a more complete program.

Attendance is required for all families, but some provisions allow flexibility for students facing obstacles in full class participation.

The district is also working with local Black education organizations to create culturally relevant tutoring services and other “small group support” opportunities for Black students.

While many parents expressed appreciation for one-on-one meetings with special education teachers and small work groups, some were wary of Zoom fatigue and the prospect of large group meetings.

“All of our educators are hungry for professional development because this is such a new landscape that we’re in,” said BUSD Special Education Director Shawn Mansager during the event. “We will be continuing to provide support throughout the year for all of our teachers to ensure that they have the tools they need to support your children.”

Stephens added that the district has hosted more than 100 live professional development sessions for more than 500 teachers, aides and substitute teachers focused on digital literacy and meeting students’ social and emotional needs.

According to Jefferson Elementary School Principal Mary Cazden, elementary instruction will begin with family meetings to discuss individual circumstances.

“We really have to work with families of young children,” Cazden said during the event. “We do have to realize that some children have to work up to the amount of time that we are offering on Zoom.”

Debbie Dean, director of TK-8 schools, said teachers will split their classes for “in-depth learning sessions” and advisory classes aimed to promote study skills and community-building. Middle school students will also participate in small group learning clusters Thursdays and Fridays.

Across grades, students in special education programs will begin classes with an emphasis on learning how to use distance learning technology, including Google Classroom and tablets, said BUSD educational specialist Eileen Jacobs.

Jacobs added that support services such as speech, language and physical therapy will be available through “collaborative learning cycles.”

“The staff has been working and collaborating,” Jacobs said during the event. “We’re really excited to get in there and see all your students again.”

Contact Victoria Stafford at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @VictoriaStaffrd.