Berkeley school district discusses school reopening plan, housing for educators

Photo of BUSD Emerson Elementary School
William Webster/Staff
One of the topics discussed at the Berkeley Unified School District’s Board of Education meeting was the timeline for COVID-19 vaccinations for employeers and students. Board members also discussed timelines for reopening schools of various grade levels.

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The Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, Board of Education met Wednesday to discuss its timeline to reopen schools and its plan to build housing for teachers, among other agenda items.

BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens presented the results of the tentative agreement between BUSD and the Berkeley Federation of Teachers about staff vaccinations and the reopening timeline to attendees. Board members and public commenters alike emphasized the importance of the schedule for reopening.

“There’s a lot of work that’s ahead of us,” said said Ty Alper, BUSD Board of Education president, during the meeting. “It’s also taken us a long time to get to this point.”

Pushing back on the suggestion that the timeline is too little, too late, Alper praised the work of teachers and community members and offered a hopeful perspective, claiming that the plan is the “light at the end of the tunnel.”

Vaccinations for all the 1,500 BUSD employees are set to begin Feb. 22, with priority given to pre-K to second grade educators, according to Stephens. Vaccines for middle and high school educators will begin the week of March 8, with all other BUSD employees receiving the vaccines at a later date.

If the vaccination timeline proceeds according to plan, pre-K to second grade students will return to school March 29, followed by third grade to fifth grade, sixth to eighth and the Berkeley special programs April 12, Stephens added. Grades 10 to 12 are set to return April 19.

Such reopenings, however, are subject to change based on public health decisions, according to Stephens.

“As I use the word ‘reopen,’ I want to strike a note of caution,” Stephens said during the meeting. “We continue to be obliged to conform to all of the health guidance issued by the state of California and reinforced in the current orders both at the county and the city level.”

Although the details of the plan remain to be hammered out, Stephens presented two models of reopening. One consists of distance learning in the morning and in-person learning in the afternoon, and the other offers two full days of in-person learning and three full days of distance learning.

Following a presentation on the district’s budget deficit, board members discussed the proposed workforce housing for BUSD educators. An October 2017 survey of BUSD workers revealed that only 30% of teachers live in Berkeley, and 69% believe the high cost of housing harms their long-term prospects of staying within BUSD, said John Calise, BUSD facilities executive director.

As a result, BUSD decided to create workforce housing, and, following feasibility studies, the board voted unanimously to pick the parking lot of the Berkeley Adult School as the site.

During public comment nearing the meeting’s end, board members — and, more hesitantly, public attendees — praised the reopening timeline, emphasizing that students must remain a priority.

“The people that we need to thank and appreciate the most are our students,” Alper said during the meeting. “It’s young people across the globe who have suffered social isolation, learning loss, mental health trauma and abuse in service of protecting older members of their communities, who are at greater risk.”

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