Berkeley school board discusses vaccine, testing policy for students, staff

photo of Emerson Elementary School
William Webster/Staff
The Berkeley Unified School District reviewed options for its COVID-19 safety plan before the school year begins. The school district will implement a modified quarantine for unvaccinated students exposed to COVID-19.

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The Berkeley Unified School District school board discussed vaccination and testing policies for students and staff at its Wednesday meeting.

The board considered the possibility of mandating vaccination for all school employees prior to the Oct. 15 deadline set by California under its new guidance.

“We’re all feeling a mixture of emotions as we begin this particular school year, certainly some frustration and pain given the persistence of the pandemic and the emergence of the delta variant,” said school board president Ty Alper during the meeting.

BUSD spokesperson Trish McDermott described the district’s COVID-19 safety plan, which details risk mitigation strategies.

Masking, regardless of vaccination status, will be required indoors, outdoors and on buses with some exceptions.

McDermott explained how vaccinations are also an integral part of public safety. She attributes the high vaccination rates in large part to the partnership between the district and the city, which offers opportunities for students to receive vaccinations.

She stated that quarantine is no longer required if a vaccinated person who has been exposed to COVID-19 is asymptomatic. However, she stressed that such persons must continue to monitor symptoms and move to isolation if they actually experience any symptoms.

Additionally, BUSD will introduce a modified quarantine this year, which will occur if an unvaccinated student is exposed to COVID-19 while masked in a supervised school setting. Under the modified quarantine policy, students can continue to attend school and ride the bus as long as they remain asymptomatic, but they must undergo testing twice a week.

However, if an individual either tests positive for COVID-19 or experiences symptoms, they must go into isolation. Once they have tested negative for COVID-19 or the health care provider documents that the symptoms actually result from some other underlying chronic condition such as asthma or allergies, they may return to school.

BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens presented the probable timeline for implementation of the new safety plan.

By Aug. 12, all employees would be notified of vaccination and testing requirements, and onsite COVID-19 testing would be reestablished by Aug. 23. Finally, verification of employees’ vaccination status would be required by Aug. 27, and mandatory BUSD employee testing would start by Sept. 3rd, which also would mark the deadline for employee vaccinations.

Stephens added that Vestra Labs, a COVID-19 testing partner, provides a more streamlined consent form, which not only eliminates the need to collect families’ information but also incorporates blanket consent.

Vestra Labs will not test minors without parental consent. As a result, mandated student COVID-19 tests must be ruled out for the time being, according to Stephens.

“We’re still under the cloud of COVID-19, which is likely to persist throughout the winter,” said Julie Sinai, school board director, during the meeting. “Our best defensive protection for our community members who are not eligible for the vaccine is for the rest of us to get vaccinated, and while the delta variant is climbing, to wear our masks.”

Contact Kira Rao-Poolla at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @kiraraopoolla.