Berkeley school district approves target date for Phase 2 of reopening plan

Photo of Martin Luther King Middle School
Alexandre Bui/File
During the public comment section of the Berkeley Unified School District board meeting Wednesday, teachers and parents voiced their opinions about reopening schools.

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During Wednesday night’s Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, board meeting, members continued their discussion of the reopening plan of four school campuses and approved a target date for Phase 2 of their plan.

While some board members expressed hesitation, in a unanimous vote the board approved the target date of Jan. 13 for the implementation of Phase 2 of the reopening plan. Phase 2 would allow students in preschool programs and transitional kindergarten through second grade to attend school in person.

The vote also added a stipulation that the board would meet again before Jan. 13 to vote on a final date to reopen and implement Phase 2. BUSD Student Director Miles Miller and board President Judy Appel expressed concerns about what circumstances with COVID-19 would look like in January.

“Things are changing so frequently,” Miller said during the meeting. “This will be the first real holiday break we’re going to have with COVID being around. … We just don’t know what to expect.”

During the meeting, BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens shared a presentation including BUSD staff survey results from October.

According to the presentation, of the 26% of staff members who responded, more than half prefer to work on campus when a COVID-19 vaccine is available as well as when cases are low enough that schools are permitted to fully reopen in person for five days per week.

Families, on the other hand, felt a little more open to returning to in-person school. According to the presentation, 38% of BUSD families responded that they were ready to send their children “as soon as possible” and 16% would be ready to send their children to school in January.

During public comment, teachers and parents voiced their opinions about reopening schools. Lily Howell, a parent of two elementary school students, advocated in-person classes. According to Howell, distance learning has “exacerbated and widened” equity issues in schools.

“Distance learning is the single biggest equity issue that we have faced, maybe in my lifetime,” Howell said during the meeting. “We have kids who cannot escape violence in their home, abuse in their home. There’s no sanctuary for those students right now either, so I really believe that equity needs to be at the forefront of this conversation.”

Julie Madsen is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Julie_Madsen_.