Berkeley school district discusses elementary school reopening

Photo of Emerson BUSD School
Willliam Webster/Staff
Because Alameda County has now entered the red tier — the second-most restrictive tier of California's reopening system — Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, discussed its plans to gradually switch to in-person learning at a BUSD Board of Education meeting.

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With Alameda County now in the red tier of the state’s reopening system, the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, Board of Education members met Wednesday evening to discuss the details of its reopening plans.

Under the plan, presented at the meeting by BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens, students in preschool, transitional kindergarten and kindergarten through the second grade will return to school March 29.

Parents were sent a binding form Monday to choose in-person learning or distance learning for the remainder of the academic year, which was due Thursday at noon. There will be some flexibility for parents to turn in late submissions, but Stephens noted the district needs time to prepare.

“If some families are late by a little, that will not disqualify your submission,” Stephens said during the meeting. “What we’re trying to do is create these new class lists of distance learning and in-person across the entire distance.”

Most classes are expected to change as students opt for distance or in-person learning. Additionally, under the distance learning option, students will be in classes with students from other schools.

Part of the goal of the phased reopening of schools, according to Stephens, is to prepare for the fall, by which the district plans to have all students return to in-person instruction five days a week.

Of BUSD families, 60% filled out the survey by Wednesday evening when the meeting was taking place. Of those, 90% indicated they would prefer for their children to return to in-person learning.

Stephens emphasized the challenge in staffing requirements of running two elementary school programs simultaneously and noted many students will be taught by substitute teachers.

Middle and high school students, however, will not return to in-person learning until the weeks of April 12 and April 19. Classroom structures at Berkeley High School, or Berkeley High, were among the smallest in the district, despite having larger class sizes than the elementary schools, according to Stephens.

Miles Miller, Berkeley High student and BUSD Board of Education student director, echoed Stephens.

“The hallways at Berkeley High are shoulder to shoulder,” Miller said during the meeting. “Thinking about COVID times, walking through those hallways would be one of the scariest things to do.”

Stephens also discussed a possible hybrid model of learning for middle and high school students.

According to Stephens, the first half of the instructional day would be remote and the second half in person. The plan remains up in the air as an agreement with the teachers’ union has yet to be reached.

As a result of its move to return to in-person instruction, BUSD will receive $3.1 million in one-time funding from the California state government, according to BUSD Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Pauline Follansbee.

“We view it (the reopening plan) as a stepping stone towards the larger reopening dates,” Stephens said during the meeting. “It gives folks on all of our campuses the opportunity to provide support to the students who most need it but also to implement critical safety procedures and to gear up for larger returns to campuses.”

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