Berkeley school district discusses equity programs, resources amid COVID-19

Photo of Sylvia Mendez Elementary School
Sunny Shen/File
During its meeting Wednesday, members of Berkeley Unified School District’s Board of Education approved $25,000 in funding to support English language learner students. The board also discussed learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, Board of Education members met Wednesday evening to discuss a variety of equity issues, including resources for unhoused students and English language learners.

While the board intended to hold a conversation focusing on the budget for the 2021-2022 academic year and possible prioritization plans, the discussion was postponed due to the absence of BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens.

The board, however, was able to approve the allocation of $25,000 for facilitation support in revising the English Learner Master Plan for the district. Hoping to develop and finalize the plan by December, BUSD plans to work with educational and community stakeholders.

BUSD director Ana Vasudeo expressed support for the plan and emphasized the importance of supporting English language learner students.

The board also received a presentation on the Homeless Outreach Program for Education, or HOPE, a program under federal legislation that works with local areas to provide resources for students experiencing homelessness.

Phillip Shelley, BUSD director of student services, and Melody Royal, BUSD McKinney-Vento counselor, provided an update on HOPE’s efforts.

Similar to other recent board meetings, the public comment section focused on the implications of COVID-19 and how to safely reopen BUSD schools.

Miles Miller, board student director and Berkeley High School, or BHS, student spoke of his own experience with the loss of learning due to remote instruction and hopes to return to school for in-person instruction when it is safe to do so.

“I am experiencing — and my classmates are experiencing — those gaps in learning every day,” Miller said during the meeting. “This year is completely different.”

Many members of the board also stated their hope to reopen schools but emphasized the critical importance of successful negotiations with teachers’ unions before reopening becomes possible.

Board director Laura Babitt emphasized the importance of unity and trust between students, teachers and parents amid reopening discussions.

“We can do this. We must do this,” Babitt said during the meeting. “Our kids can’t wait.”

BHS teacher and parent Hasmig Minassian echoed the call for unity among teachers and parents as they all work to support the students amid the pandemic.

Minassian added she rejects the narrative of placing teachers and parents against one another, calling for people to recognize the complexity of the situation.

“I reject the teacher versus parent narrative. I reject the analogies of teachers holding students or this process ‘hostage,’” Minassian said during the meeting. “Though I understand it is easy to see the negotiations as one big army of teachers against school reopening, I’d ask you to rise to the challenge of seeing a few more shades of gray.”

Claire Daly is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @DalyClaire13.