Berkeley school district board talks mask mandates, climate literacy funds

Photo of the Berkeley Unified School District headquarters
Kyle Garcia Takata/Staff
BUSD employees will now have to be vaccinated as part of multiple resolutions from the school district's board, which include funding for climate literacy curricula.

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At a meeting Wednesday, members of the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, Board of Education discussed the decision to make masks optional outdoors and voted to sign a petition urging state officials to fund climate literacy initiatives in California school districts.

At the meeting, BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens said the district will begin scaling back COVID-19 restrictions when the state mask mandate ends Feb. 28. Stephens noted masks will still be required indoors on BUSD campuses until the district receives further guidance from the California Department of Public Health, but that the outdoor mask requirement will be lifted.

“The science doesn’t support requiring masks outside,” said board member Ty Alper during the meeting. “We’ve said all along we want to follow the science, we’re a community that follows the science, that follows public health guidance.”

Stephens said changes to indoor mask policies may come in mid-March.

Following the discussion on masks, the board unanimously voted to sign onto a petition urging state officials to commit $200 million to schools’ efforts toward climate literacy programs, with $100 million allocated to districts for implementation.

In November, BUSD passed a climate literacy resolution allocating $65,000 to develop a climate curriculum. Facing budget cuts, the board did not commit additional funds toward implementing the curriculum until it has been developed.

Los Angeles Unified School District, or LAUSD, also recently passed a similar climate literacy resolution, according to Sarah Ranney, co-author of BUSD’s climate literacy resolution.

“We are so pleased that LAUSD has passed a resolution to really meet the scale and the urgency of the challenge that we face today, and we know that one of the major discussions in our own group around getting things going was funding,” said Laura Babitt, vice president of the board, during the meeting. “We want to make sure that our voices are heard in this process.”

Additionally, the board voted to approve a grant disbursement of $242,489.34 to LifeLong Medical, a health services group that funds the Rosa Parks Kids’ Village Before And After School Program, which provides academic support and after-school activities to students at Rosa Parks Elementary.

As part of the consent calendar, the board approved a vaccine mandate for all BUSD employees. Employees must receive their primary series of COVID-19 vaccines by April 29. Those who do not comply may be dismissed the following school year.

“Having a fully vaccinated staff and student body will open up the most opportunities with the least amount of disruption,” said Berkeley Federation of Teachers President Matt Meyer during the meeting. “The policy being discussed will give the district the time needed to make sure that when school starts next year all staff will be vaccinated.”

Emma Taila is a schools and communities reporter. Contact them at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @emmataila.