Berkeley school district working to begin reopening elementary schools

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Sunny Shen/Senior Staff
Beginning Oct. 13, elementary schools in the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, will be allowed to implement reopening plans, which must meet requirements such as continued systematic testing and hybrid school schedules.

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Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, elementary schools are working to meet the Alameda County Office of Education’s, or ACOE’s, comprehensive reopening guidance requirements in response to decreased COVID-19 rates in Alameda County.

Getting elementary kids back in the classroom is a priority and a process that will be carefully planned and highly monitored, the city of Berkeley website reads. Although Alameda County public school districts can begin a “limited and phased reopening” of elementary schools Oct. 13 if they meet the ACOE’s requirements by then, BUSD, as well as most other districts, will not meet the requirements by that time, according to a BUSD press release.

As of Sept. 22, Alameda County has moved from the purple tier, or widespread risk level, to the red tier, or substantial risk level, of California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy safety rubric, an ACOE press release states. This is indicative of Alameda County maintaining a 5-8% COVID-19 test positivity rate, according to the safety rubric.

Matthai Chakko, city spokesperson, said while COVID-19 rates have gone down in Berkeley, restrictions are essential in addressing the severity of the pandemic.

“The process we’re going through now is letting some activities resume with some restrictions,” Chakko said. “Those restrictions reflect the reality that COVID-19 is still here in our community and still spreads very easily.”

The county must remain at the red tier for two weeks before it is allowed to consider reopening schools, according to the ACOE press release. This period will conclude Tuesday, at which point each BUSD school will be responsible for developing ​and implementing its own reopening plan.

The requirements that each school’s plan must meet include systematic COVID-19 testing for all elementary school staff and volunteers at least once a month, as well as using strategies such as hybrid school schedules to meet state social distancing guidelines, according to the city’s website.

As of Monday, BUSD has completed four of the 27 requirements to begin reopening schools, according to the school district’s Elementary School Reopening Readiness Dashboard. BUSD has acquired plexiglass barriers, face coverings for students and staff, district nurse COVID-19 liaisons and disinfection supplies, training and protocols, but has yet to determine school campus logistics, among other requirements.

Alameda County middle and high schools will not be permitted to open until a later time frame.

“Younger kids struggle the most with distance learning,” Chakko said. “Having a phased approach … allows schools to start with the age population that is most in need.”

More details on returning to in-person learning will come at the Oct. 7 BUSD Board of Education meeting.

While efforts to reopen elementary schools is a promising update since shelter-in-place orders were enacted in March, the city of Berkeley is still far away from restoring normalcy, according to Chakko.

“Nothing has changed about the virus,” Chakko said. “What people should do is manage their risk.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, elementary schools could begin reopening Oct. 13. In fact, the schools will not begin reopening on that date because BUSD will not meet the requirements to do so.

Contact Olivia Moore at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @olivia_moore18 .