Berkeley school district elementary schools reopen in person for grades K-2

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Matt Gibson/Staff
Berkeley Unified School District elementary schools returned to in-person instruction Monday. The in-person instruction requires that students wear face masks and practice social distancing.

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On Monday, Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, teachers and students returned to in-person instruction for the first time since the pandemic first forced schools to close last spring.

Under the BUSD hybrid plan, students in prekindergarten through second grade were eligible to return to in-person instruction. While students will have the next week off for spring recess, those in third to ninth grade will return to schools in person the following week of April 12. Tenth to 12th grade students will return the week after.

For Marco Taylor, principal of John Muir Elementary School, the first day back felt like a first day of school. BUSD spokesperson Trish McDermott, who visited elementary schools this week, echoed the sentiment.

“Kids were excited, a little nervous! Butterflies in your stomach,” McDermott said. “It felt like the first day for many of these students. Certainly it was the first day to see their classmates and their teachers in person.”

The move to reopen comes as Alameda County shifts to the orange tier of reopening, with an adjusted daily COVID-19 case rate of 2.6 cases per 100,000 residents, and a testing positivity rate of 1.1%.

Under the plan, students are mandated to wear face masks and practice social distancing in addition to taking a second visual screening on school campuses, according to McDermott. Parents and guardians are also required to do daily health screeners before students head to school.

Staff members are tested every other week, McDermott said. Students have been good about following the health guidelines, she added.

COVID-19 vaccines are also available to every BUSD teacher due to a partnership with the city. However, this is not the case for students, and there are currently no vaccines available for those under the age of 16.

Yvette Felarca, a BUSD middle school teacher and a spokesperson for the organization Equal Opportunity Now/By Any Means Necessary, has played a vocal role in fighting the reopening plan.

“Until there is a safe and effective vaccine widely available to children, the schools, the brick-and-mortar schools should remain closed,” Felarca said. “We’ve got this virus and we’ve got to defeat it. That’s not going to happen until everything is closed down, including the schools.”

The return to in-person schooling was optional, and 82% of students chose to return to school, McDermott said.

For those who chose to continue with remote instruction, a reorganized online structure was set up to allow students to continue receiving an education. Virtual and in-person administrators have been coordinating their efforts, Taylor said.

“We’re really happy to have the kids back. They’re so excited, they’re sweet,” Taylor said. “All of our staff are really happy to have them back. We’re having fun, and we’re working hard.”

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