Online class restricts Berkeley school district special education, alternative school programs

Photo of Berkeley Technology Academy
Sydney Chang/Staff
Berkeley Unified School District's special education and alternative school programs have suffered greatly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual instruction methods have made Berkeley Technology Academy and Berkeley Independent Study, two different programs within the school district that serve students who need greater flexibility and teacher attention, lack resources they would have with in-person instruction.

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Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, educators at alternative high schools and special education programs have adapted their teaching methods due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which also rendered key services inaccessible for students.

Berkeley Technology Academy, or BTA, and Berkeley Independent Study, or BIS, are two different programs within BUSD that serve students who need greater flexibility and teacher attention. Dissimilar to BIS, which has the same graduation requirements as Berkeley High School, BTA is a continuation school for credit recovery for students ages 16 and older.

The school district’s special education program provides students with services related to special education, according to BUSD spokesperson Trish McDermott in an email. These services are determined by an individualized education plan, or IEP, team that is based on a student’s specific needs.

McDermott noted in the email that these programs have suffered from the shift to remote learning.

“Distance learning cannot fully replicate the social emotional learning that happens when students are on their campus for in-person learning,” McDermott said in the email. “Many of our students with disabilities have a variety of needs that are best served in person.”

However, according to BTA and BIS Principal Heidi Weber, the impact of the switch to remote learning has not been unique for her schools with regard to other BUSD schools.

Weber added that similar to other BUSD teachers, educators at BTA and BIS are lacking resources they would have had access to if instruction were in person, and they have had to learn to use technology platforms such as Google Classroom and Zoom.

BUSD educators continue to provide services and resources that are currently available, according to McDermott in the email. Special education teachers continue to work with small groups of students, collaborate with general education teachers and schedule virtual IEP meetings, as well as providing other resources. Students also have access to speech and occupational therapists.

McDermott added in the email that educators met before the start of the 2020-21 school year to plan virtual lessons and to discuss strategies for the new year, including supporting student emotional and social health, and fostering inclusion in online classes. Teachers continue to meet on a weekly basis.

David Villani is a schools and communities reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @davidvillani7.