This week, middle school students in Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, are back in the classroom two afternoons out of the week for the first time since March 12, 2020.
This change comes as BUSD allowed grades three through five as well as high school freshmen to return to in-person instruction Monday. On April 26, Berkeley High School students grades 10 through 12 will be invited to come back to campus as well.
“Improving COVID-19 conditions, our staff vaccination partnership with the City of Berkeley, safety protocol guidance from City of Berkeley Public Health, and agreements with our labor partners are all factors that led to this reopening,” said BUSD spokesperson Trish McDermott in an email. “It has always been our goal to bring students back to their school campuses when these combined factors made it possible to do so.”
Daily health screenings, masks and social distancing are now required on campus, McDermott said. She added that hand sanitizer stations will be placed throughout schools.
Some parents are unhappy with the limited nature of school reopenings and want more than two-day school weeks.
“Watching other public districts throughout California offer full-time in-person learning to their middle and high school students through a combination of live-streaming and other innovative and courageous efforts is truly difficult,” said Nila Rosen, a BUSD parent, in an email. “I get concerned about all of our Berkeley students, including my own who have only received 12 hours of on-line school a week for over a year.”
Another BUSD parent, Sarah Bowles, has a child in elementary school who attends class five days a week and said it is “unfair” that her middle school child does not get to do the same.
Bowles added that she faces difficulty getting her children to and from school because of their conflicting schedules.
“It’s pretty burdensome to juggle,” Bowles said. “I don’t understand how anyone who’s got an hourly job where they don’t have flexibility would be able to do that.”
As long as students are wearing masks, Bowles believes that the school can reopen fully and safely.
According to McDermott, not all families share Bowles’ and Rosen’s sentiments, as some have elected to continue distance learning for the time being. In fact, Yvette Felarca, a Berkeley middle school teacher who opposes schools reopening, will only be teaching online for the remainder of the school year.
Felarca said BUSD should stay closed until vaccines are available to students, as reopening schools while students are unvaccinated will put them at risk.
“Between more contagious variants and a massive subset of our school population — the students — still unvaccinated, reopening turns our schools into petri dishes and endangers our students,” Felarca said in an email.
Though Matt Albinson, a computer science teacher and EdTech specialist at Berkeley High School, wants schools to reopen, he said it is “not practical” for all students to be back on campus, as those who are unvaccinated may still be able to spread COVID-19 and bring it home to vulnerable family members.
However, Albinson believes that students who want to come back should be given the option, adding that he misses that community and “ability to be together.”