Berkeley parents pursue legal action against Berkeley school district to reopen schools

Photo of BUSD Emerson Elementary School
William Webster/File
Berkeley parents are initiating legal action to fully reopen middle and high schools. A Berkeley Parents for Full Reopening press release claims that only elementary schools being allowed to return to in-person instruction creates an unequal situation for the middle and high school students.

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Since the closing of Berkeley public schools more than a year and a half ago, parents of middle and high school students have organized to reopen classrooms and in-person instruction.

Berkeley Parents for Full Reopening, or BPFR, is a group of more than 40 families who are now pursuing legal action against Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD.

“These parent efforts seek to return students to full-time, in-person instruction and address the significant learning loss and deterioration in the mental health among children and teens that school closures have created,” a BPFR press release reads.

Despite the push by local health officials to reopen all public schools, BUSD has only reopened classrooms for those in elementary schools, creating an “unequal situation” for middle and high school students, according to the press release.

This divide in partial reopening, according to the press release, has allegedly violated the rights of middle and high school students to a full-time, in-person education under SB 98 and AB 86. Both pieces of legislation were added as amendments to the education code in order to require “in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible during the 2020-2021 school year.”

“Berkeley is in a continuing public education crisis that worsens every day students are out of school and away from their teachers and peers. I am among many, many parents who regularly see their children depressed, social anxious and academically apathetic,” said Nova Blazej, parent of two Berkeley High School students, in an email. “I am pushing for schools to re-open because our children’s education, mental health and future opportunity is on the line.”

Parents have also received little to no concrete information on the plan to reopen schools, according to Blazej.

Plans that have been released to the public have been both misfiled and “inadequate” even after requests for clarification and transparency from the Berkeley Public Health Division, according to the press release.

“There has been an utter lack of transparency in BUSD’s assumptions and decision-making to keep schools closed. Much of Superintendent Stephens’ communication to families has seemed intentionally misleading,” Blazej said in the email.

 A letter sent to BUSD by members of BFPR outlines a list of demands that need to be achieved prior to the school’s commencement this fall.

Included in the letter are demands for BUSD to approve and implement a plan to begin full in-person instruction no later than May 17 for teachers to be physically present in the classroom and for BUSD to actively make an effort to include parent voices in BUSD affairs going forward.

“Online instruction has robbed my children of the excitement that fuels learning and dives curiosity,” said Elisabeth Kashner, parent of two students who attend Berkeley High School, in an email. “My 9th grader, new to BUSD, has had to get creative in order make friends with her new classmates, as the teachers have blocked student-to-student chat in the online instruction rooms. Returning to in-person, full-day instruction cannot come soon enough for me.”

Contact Audry Jeong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @audryjng_dc.