Advocacy organization BUSD Parents to host ‘Reopen Our Schools’ rally

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In response to calls to reopen, Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Trish McDermott said schools cannot open for in-person learning while Alameda County falls in the purple 'widespread' COVID-19 risk tier.

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Concerned by students’ mental health and education quality, a group called Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, Parents will organize a rally Saturday to call for the reopening of public schools with COVID-19 safety protocols.

Parents have been concerned about school closures since March, according to Rosa Parks Elementary School PTA President Lei Levi. While Oct. 13 was set as the first date for elementary schools to be allowed to reopen, some parents frustrated with the lack of transparency and delays formed BUSD Parents, an advocacy organization. The group recently circulated a petition for reopening and will host the “Reopen Our Schools” rally Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

“It was really heartbreaking to hear the mental anguish that (high school students have) been going through,” Levi said. “In this crisis, a lot of our community’s been taken away, and we haven’t been given a space to share these feelings. We now have to take to the streets and we’re doing it in a joyous celebration of public education.”

BUSD spokesperson Trish McDermott noted that three elementary schools opened Nov. 9 for limited eight-student cohorts, providing support to about 70 students. Levi, however, cited the inequity of selectively opened campuses.

In response to calls to reopen, McDermott said schools cannot open for in-person learning while Alameda County falls in the purple “widespread” COVID-19 risk tier.

“We’ve heard passionate pleas from parents, guardians and students to open school campuses for in-person learning as soon as possible, but we’ve also heard equally passionate voices express a desire to keep students in distance learning until conditions are safer or a vaccine is readily available,” McDermott said in an email.

The BUSD Parents’ petition also called on the district and Berkeley Federation of Teachers, or BFT, to be more transparent about labor negotiations.

Janine Waddell, BFT vice president, said talks have been going on since last March, and topics have evolved from negotiating distance learning to a hybrid learning plan.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm and trying to brainstorm creative solutions,” Waddell said. “Educators recognize that in-person learning is definitely best for students, while also recognizing that it’s tricky to make that happen.”

Waddell added that there are five more sessions scheduled between now and winter break. BFT will also survey members for scheduling and logistical information and discuss how hybrid learning could affect targeted subgroups, such as special education students.

According to Levi, the call to reopen is not limited to the Berkeley school district. BUSD Parents has teamed up with parents in states such as New York and Oregon, which also have events planned this weekend.

“There does seem to be a national movement that’s growing,” Levi said. “We’re all feeding off each other because we’re all so frustrated and so angered by the inaction of our school districts across the nation.”

Contact Catherine Hsu at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @catherinehsuDC.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Oct. 13 was the deadline for schools to begin reopening. In fact, it was the first day schools could begin reopening.