Berkeley school district presents updates on in-person schooling

Photo of BUSD Emerson Elementary School
William Webster/File
Berkeley Unified School District board members gave updates on the current hybrid instruction model and expressed a commitment to returning to normal in-person education in the fall.

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Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, board members gave updates on the current hybrid instruction model and expressed a commitment to returning to normal in-person education in the fall at a meeting Wednesday evening.

The meeting came 17 days after prekindergarten through second-grade students returned to in-person learning, and three days after students in grades three through nine returned. 10th through 12th-grade students will have the option to return to limited in-person instruction April 19, according to BUSD superintendent Brent Stephens.

Presenting on remote instruction, Michelle Sinclair, the newly appointed online instruction coordinator, noted that 751 students and 35 teachers are currently pursuing the remote option, leading to the creation of what Stephens said amounts to “Berkeley’s largest elementary school.”

However, the process has not been entirely stress-free, according to Sinclair. Students who chose to remain online were, in some cases, reassigned to new teachers and classes.

“We had some technology issues because of the transferring over,” Sinclair said during the meeting. “We had to create a new school.”

Stephens added that some difficulties the district is facing are issues around technology, communications and scheduling. Additionally, the district has seen an ongoing shortage of substitute teachers, as many have been called to teach the supplementary classes. Despite the challenges, Sinclair said teachers have been able to conduct one-on-one meetings with families.

To determine student decisions on returning to in-person instruction, BUSD sent surveys to parents asking them to indicate their preferences. About 37% of students indicated a preference for in-person classes and about 25% for distance learning for Berkeley High School, or BHS.

Stephens noted that the BHS survey suffered from high nonresponse rates — 37.4% did not respond to the survey — which was especially pronounced among people of color and socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals.

Stephens also touched on plans for graduation events and said BUSD intends to allow in-person events. While additional guidance will be provided for schools, current requirements are social distancing, preregistering and assigned seating for events.

The events will be outdoors, and virtual programs will also be provided for families that prefer to attend from home, Stephens added.

In regards to the upcoming academic year, Stephens said the district is looking at an in-person fall operating five days a week, with a morning and afternoon schedule.

“I do urge community members to recognize that this is a firm commitment to return to full-time schooling,” Stephens said during the meeting.

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