Berkeley school district shows progress in reopening preparedness with online dashboards

Photo of Sylvia Mendez Elementary School
Sunny Shen/File
The online dashboards show the progress of Berkeley Unified School District's plans to reopen its schools. The elementary school dashboard is currently the furthest along in its progress, but the middle and high schools are also close to completing their plans.

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As schools remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, created online dashboards that show the progress of its plans to reopen schools across multiple grade levels.

The purpose of the dashboards is to provide transparency to the community, according to the school district’s website. BUSD spokesperson Trish McDermott added that since its campuses were shut down, the school district has been looking to reopen schools due to a concern that remote learning has not been similar to in-person experiences.

“We know that students who are currently engaging in distance learning miss some of the important elements of school, including the social and emotional experience of attending school in person with peers and friends out on the playground and in close proximity to teachers and other educators,” McDermott said.

McDermott said the first dashboard, which was for elementary schools, launched in October, and ones for middle schools, high schools and Berkeley Technology Academy launched last week.

The elementary school dashboard is currently the furthest along in its progress. However, McDermott noted that other schools also have a majority of their plans completed as well.

Some steps listed as completed on the elementary school dashboard include staff training, changes in campus facilities, plans for meals and recess and bus planning.

According to the dashboards, the school district is also developing a hybrid model for classes, meaning there would be a mix of in-person and virtual learning. BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens said at a virtual town hall meeting Monday the district proposed to have distanced learning in the mornings and optional in-person classes in the afternoon.

McDermott said some elements make the ongoing steps difficult to put end dates on. For instance, she added, the hybrid model would be challenging to complete.

“There are just a lot of working pieces in the development of that model that we are continuing to work through,” McDermott said. “That includes conversations with our labor partners, that includes refining the scheduling, which is relatively complex.”

McDermott added that should schools reopen, some aspects would be different from normal campus procedures to account for COVID-19. For example, students can be screened when they arrive on campus and desks would be set up to allow for social distancing, according to McDermott.

Rob Collier, president of the Berkeley PTA Council said the topic of reopening schools has been passionately debated. According to Collier, several parents and guardians want the school district to reopen schools quickly, while others are worried about rushing to do so.

“I think everybody recognizes that now is not the time to reopen the schools because we’re in the middle of an unprecedented surge in COVID cases in Alameda County and in California,” Collier said.

Contact Natalie Lu at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @natalie_c_lu.