Berkeley school board discuss reopening plans, Asian American, Pacific Islander resolution

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David McAllister/Staff
During a Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, Board of Education meeting, BUSD Superintend Brent Stephens shared updates on the district’s reopening plans for fall 2021. The board also approved a resolution supporting the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

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A year after the closure of local schools, Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, Board of Education members met Wednesday evening to discuss reopening plans and approve a resolution that supports the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

Ty Alper, BUSD Board of Education president, opened the meeting by addressing the death of eight people in Atlanta last week — six of whom were women of Asian descent — and the emotional toll it took on members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in Berkeley. The board unanimously approved a resolution that denounces Asian American and Pacific Islander hate crimes and calls on the district to support Asian American and Pacific Islander families, students and staff.

BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens then presented the school reopening timeline and plans for the fall 2021 semester. He also shared updates to instruction models for elementary, middle and high schools

“Remember that the pandemic is not over,” Stephens said at the meeting. “Even though we’re returning, we’re still taking safety very seriously, and we’re going to need one another’s good will, patience and willingness to remind each other of the importance of the practices that keep us safe.”

Stephens added that students in preschool, transitional kindergarten and kindergarten through second grade will return to school March 29 under a model that implements five full days of in-person instruction every week.

Students in middle and high school will return April 12 and April 19, respectively, under a hybrid model with distance learning in the morning and in-person instruction in the afternoon. In a recent survey, 75% of middle and high school families indicated that they would return their children to in-person instruction and opt in to this model, he added.

Following the presentation, BUSD board director Laura Babitt criticized the hybrid model, stating that the other 25% of families are choosing not to return because of it.

“This model does not support equity for those families who live outside this district, the city or who work outside of the home,” Babitt said during the meeting. “They don’t see the value in coming to school for two hours a day, twice a week — in uprooting everything that they already have in place.”

Babitt added that the school district needs to move towards developing a model that can provide “equitable” results, such as a means of transportation for students to school campuses.

During the board discussion, Stephens addressed plans for the upcoming fall semester. BUSD will allow all labor agreements made during the pandemic to expire and intends to revert to having five full days of in-person instruction for all grade levels.

Stephens added that the district will develop a distance learning program option for families if necessary.

“We are a unified community,” Stephens said. “While our families’ needs may vary a great deal, our district is working hard with our community to be able to meet these needs.”

Annika Kim Constantino is a schools and communities reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaKimC.