October 16, 2020
Dear BUSD Classified and Certificated Staff,
This afternoon, I’m writing specifically to you – our invaluable BUSD staff.
In the coming weeks and months, I expect that the conversations and debates about reopening schools will intensify in the Bay Area and in Berkeley. In many ways, these debates will feel like a difference between parents on one side, and teachers on the other. I think we all recognize that this isn’t true; we all share concerns about our students’ education and well-being, and we all share concerns about the risk of COVID-19. It’s a damnable aspect of this pandemic, and the disjointed approach taken in this country, that these concerns and priorities may seem pitted against each other.
In my thinking over the long arc of this pandemic, I’ve been shocked by what seems to be the recklessness of some of the earlier, full school reopenings in some states. On the other hand, waiting for a vaccine may mean withholding in-person education from young people and their families who are struggling with online learning.
In between these two positions of early and wide re-opening or staying shut for a very long time, there is a range of moderated and cautious approaches that have led to the successful reopening of in-person learning in many districts. It’s in this way that I have been counseling our community: Let’s take this one step at a time, but let’s move forward.
Last week, the Board made a wise decision to approach school reopening in phases, and to focus the district’s efforts first on opening a set of very small cohorts at the elementary and Pre-K level, with staff who are ready to return to campus – provided that many layered health precautions are in place – and with students for whom distance learning simply isn’t working.
This coming week, the Board will debate and may decide on a target reopening date for elementary and pre-K schools. The date will serve as a target to aim for, with the understanding that the district must complete all the tasks on our Elementary School Reopening Readiness Dashboard, and must work to achieve an agreement with all four of our labor partners. The target date also assumes that community transmission continues to remain stable or decline, which it appears to be doing currently, as Alameda moved into the next lower “orange” tier on October 13.
I know that a lot of the details about these discussions will get lost as they are talked about, reported on, and debated in our community. My main message to you is to let you know of my commitment to a moderated and considered approach. We’re going to take this one step at a time.
I hope you know how much the Board of Education and the central office team appreciates all you do for our students during this very challenging time. The work we do together on behalf of our students is critical to the well-being of the community, and your own well-being is critical to the work we do.
Update on Board Discussion of Phased School Reopening Plans
October 9, 2020
Dear BUSD Colleagues,
I write to share an update on school reopening plans, and will share this brief update as well with families shortly.
Over the last two weeks, the County and City Public Health Officers have amended their Shelter-in-Place orders to permit elementary schools to begin to reopen on or after October 13, due to the continued decrease in transmission of COVID-19.
While BUSD is not yet prepared to reopen all our elementary schools, on Wednesday evening of this week the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education did approve the initial elements of a phased plan for reopening. The Board asked staff to focus first on providing prioritized, targeted support for a limited number of elementary school-aged students, with a possible start date of October 26.
The Board delayed a vote on a target date for a larger opening of elementary schools, asking District staff to provide additional data about family and staff reopening concerns by the October 21 Board meeting. I’m appreciative of the thorough attention that the Board of Education is giving to the important considerations.
In preparation for the Board’s continued deliberations at the October 21st Board meeting, I hope that elementary families will take a few minutes next week to respond to a very brief survey about your views on elementary school reopening. We will send this out early next week.
Meanwhile, the District has launched an Elementary School Reopening Readiness Dashboard. The Dashboard, which will be updated weekly, is intended as a transparent means for the community to track BUSD progress toward reopening our elementary schools. The next update of the Readiness Dashboard will be available on the BUSD website on Monday, October 12.
This path is far longer and more difficult than we could have imagined. I wish you and your family as many moments of respite and warmth as possible this weekend, and offer my gratitude to our amazing families and staff for their hard work and compassion.
New Shelter-in-Place Orders and School Planning Updates
October 1, 2020
Dear BUSD Colleagues, this message will be shared in a bilingual message with families soon:
This evening Alameda County issued a modification of its Shelter-in-Place Order, and we expect the City of Berkeley to follow with a similar Order on Friday. The Order takes note of the reduced spread of COVID-19 in Alameda County, and envisions permitting a limited and phased reopening of elementary schools, without the need for the waiver required previously.
Phased-In Plans Required
Health Orders and Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) guidance continue to make it clear that reopening should be carefully planned and phased in over a period of time, beginning no earlier than October 13. Middle and high schools will not be permitted to open until a later time frame.
Most public school districts, including BUSD, will not be ready by October 13 to comply with the latest version of ACOE’s comprehensive reopening guidance, as well as with local Health Department requirements. However, we are developing a realistic and appropriately careful plan for a phased reopening, including, as I’ve previously mentioned, a focus on prioritized, cohort-based supports prior to the opening of grade-levels.
A detailed BUSD “Elementary School Reopening Readiness Dashboard” will be available on our website on Monday, October 5 and then updated weekly. We have completed many important steps in the plan, including modifications to facilities, ventilation and air filtration upgrades, acquisition of face coverings, and expanded staffing and contracted support for district health and safety work. Key elements of this work that are underway, but not yet complete, include plans for scheduled COVID-19 testing for all employees. This dashboard is intended as a transparent means for the community to track BUSD progress on these important activities.
Details at October 7th Board Meeting
BUSD has been working intensively for many months toward the goal of bringing students back to in-person learning. I look forward to sharing more detailed information and timelines at the upcoming School Board meeting on Wednesday, October 7, and I hope you will tune in for further details.
Further Progress Toward Eventual Reopening of Schools
September 25, 2020
Dear BUSD Colleagues,
As this week ends, there is significant news to report about progress toward an eventual reopening of BUSD schools. (This letter will be shared with families and posted on our website later today.)
Alameda County moves into “Red Tier”
This week the Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) responded to the news that Alameda County’s COVID-19 rates have placed the County in the “substantial” Tier 2 (red), which could mean that schools may eventually be permitted to reopen for in-person learning, although any reopening will be subject to restrictions to protect the health and safety of students and staff.
Measured and Phased Approach for School Reopening
At this time, with many health preparations still in progress, and local disease status yet to stabilize at lower levels, BUSD is not yet in a position to provide a date for wider campus reopening.
Alameda County Superintendent of Schools L. Karen Monroe signalled the need to take a “measured and phased approach.” ACOE will issue a revised plan for schools after October 6, and continues to underscore the necessity for re-opening plans that include facilities modifications, testing and contact tracing protocols, staffing plans and collective bargaining agreements.
City of Berkeley Makes Schools a Top Priority
Meanwhile, City of Berkeley Health Officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez confirmed in a press release on September 24 that a safe reopening of schools is a top priority. The City is expected to issue revised health orders pertaining to schools in early October, and will continue to monitor local health data and collaborate with schools on plans.
BUSD Focus on Cohort-based Supports and Activities for early October
Current guidance permits BUSD to provide in-person options for mandatory assessments, college board testing, specialized supports, limited afterschool programs and youth sports conditioning. While some staffing and protocols remain to be finalized, an early to mid-October date for some of these services is expected, and will be announced by relevant departments.
BUSD Making Progress on Essentials for Wider Reopening
BUSD continues to follow the public health guidance established by local, county, state, and federal agencies in order to protect the health of students, their families, and staff as we work toward providing in-person learning options, and we are making real progress on these preparations, including:
- Identifying a new database for daily health screening and contact tracing, which we anticipate will be operational by mid-October
- Delivery of portable HEPA air filters for all BUSD classrooms over the next three weeks, starting with BHS this week
- Placement of updated COVID signage in BUSD schools, starting this week
- Hiring and training new district nursing staff to coordinate any future COVID case investigations with the City of Berkeley
- Identifying a set of employee training resources to be ready in 2-3 weeks that can be used for an eventual reopening
- Identifying a possible COVID testing partner for the district in order to comply with state surveillance testing requirements
- Developing clear and careful protocols for on-campus activity, which we anticipate beginning to use starting on October 5 for the BHS Athletic Conditioning program.
- Completion of the project to install touchless faucets in all Early Education and elementary classrooms
- Completion of BUSD’s stores of PPE for students and staff
- Completion of the installation of plexiglass partitions in all school offices
These steps, together with reduced levels of community spread, will take us closer to the possibility of a broader reopening.
Further Possibilities to Emerge After October 6
We expect to receive further guidance from both local health officers and the County Office of Education around October 6.
If local community COVID spread continues to drop, and as BUSD continues to make progress with providing the required protocols and staffing plans, a phased return to a hybrid (on and off-campus) program could be possible over the next few months.
Meanwhile, it’s important that we all do our part to reduce community spread so that this hope becomes a reality.
BUSD Will Not Submit an Elementary School Waiver
September 18, 2020
Dear BUSD Elementary School Colleagues,
(This letter will go out to families later today after it is translated)
I hope that all of you have enjoyed the temporarily improved air quality we experienced in the East Bay this week, and that your school’s Back to School Nights, taking place all over the district, have been helpful and welcoming.
On Wednesday evening, I provided the Board of Education with an update on the Elementary School Waiver process for schools and districts that are seeking to open schools despite Alameda County’s current COVID-19 highest level “Widespread Transmission” status.
There are two ways to evaluate this waiver process. Is it wise to open elementary schools while community spread is still listed at the highest level? And is the District able to satisfy all of the dozens of health requirements described in the waiver application?
Right now, I must answer “no” to both of these questions, despite the very evident limitations of distance learning for Berkeley’s children.
First, I see that our shared goal of returning to in-person instruction is jeopardized in the long run by attempting to reopen at a large scale during this current level of widespread COVID-19 transmission in the County. It makes more sense to wait until the County rate has fallen to a lower level of transmission, and either remains at that lower level, or falls further. Right now, the County data is trending toward lower case rates and lower testing positivity rates, but we also know that Labor Day activities and business openings could lead to another upward trend.
Second, BUSD is like every other district in Alameda County in that we are still working to develop the plans, supplies, and partnerships required to support in-person instruction on our campuses. We have made substantial progress on these requirements – such as creating health protocols and safety plans, hiring new district nurses for COVID case investigation, and making facilities modifications such as installing touchless faucets. Some efforts – such as negotiating the working conditions of our employees – are ongoing because of the evolving nature of guidance for best practices during this pandemic. And there are new requirements, such as developing the capacity for universal COVID testing. It is remarkable that each district is left to find its own testing partnerships; fortunately, we have the support of the City of Berkeley and some local resources to find a testing partner, but we do not yet have a fully developed testing partnership and funding source.
For these reasons, BUSD will not submit a waiver application to reopen our elementary schools while county transmission rates are listed as “Widespread.” I recognize that for some families and staff this will be disappointing news, and for others this will come as a relief.
If you would like a more detailed description of the current status of BUSD’s preparations for in-person instruction, I am including this link to my presentation to the Board of Education on Wednesday evening. There, you will see an item-by-item description of our preparations.
We continue to remain committed to a measured approach to in-person instruction, and will continue to offer ongoing updates.
Acknowledging the weight of the week we’ve just been through
September 11, 2020
Dear BUSD Colleagues –
At the end of this almost indescribable week, I feel the need to reach out to all of you. This comes from a place of gratitude, and to acknowledge the weight of the week we’ve just been through. The darkened skies this week, the poison in the air today, the emotions of our shared political turmoil, taking shelter in our homes or at work – all of it carries an emotional heaviness that I know you feel as an individual, as a family member, and in your jobs. And, even more, I know many of you are offering support to our young people, who are also affected by these different forms of uncertainty.
My best wishes to you for some rest this weekend, and that you’re finding comfort in our collective service.
Update about Guidance for Schools
September 4, 2020
Dear BUSD Colleagues,
I write with an update about state and local guidance for providing in-person learning. (I’ll be sharing this letter with families as a bilingual letter to go out after the Labor Day holiday.)
As you may know, on August 28, the state announced a new “tiered” system for determining COVID risk levels in each county, and tied the reopening of schools for in-person learning to the status of each County.
Currently, Alameda County is classified at the highest level of COVID transmission – what is called “Widespread” transmission. In order for Alameda County schools to be permitted to open, county case rates will need to satisfy the criteria for the next lower level, “Substantial” for three weeks, and then remain at this level for another two weeks. Note that while Berkeley’s COVID transmission rate is much lower than the County as a whole, as a school district we are under the guidance of the County Office of Education and as such will be held to the higher level of restrictions.
Right now, it is simply not possible to say when the County will achieve this lower transmission rate, or when all schools can begin to reopen with a hybrid model such as we proposed in the summer.
However, on Wednesday night, September 2nd, Alameda County Office of Education announced that it is now asking school districts to indicate through a questionnaire their interest in two possibilities for bringing students on campus. One option is to provide in-person opportunities for targeted, high-needs purposes. Another is to apply for a waiver to reopen elementary schools, or some subset of TK-5 grades. I’ll explain each of these briefly, and how BUSD is approaching each one.
Targeted In-Person Work with Students
In the last week, revised guidance from the state and county health departments allow schools to provide limited forms of service to students. These include:
- 1-1 assessments for students with disabilities and English Language Learners
- Small-group “cohorted” instruction for students who are especially vulnerable to learning loss (students and staff in this model are required to adhere to strict rules about staying in a cohort group)
- PreK Classes
- Child Care
- Youth Activities such as sports conditioning
We have been asked to complete a non-binding questionnaire for Alameda County to indicate our interest in creating plans for these types of in-person activities. The questionnaire is due by September 11, and we plan to indicate that we are working toward plans for all of the above types of activities. Because of the care required to plan each one of these activities, as well as the time for the City and County to review our plans, we cannot yet announce a date for beginning these activities.
Alameda County is also asking that districts indicate their interest in applying for a waiver to reopen elementary schools for on-campus learning (with modifications such as the hybrid model). The waiver application itself will become available on September 9 and has no deadline. BUSD will also indicate in this questionnaire our interest in pursuing a waiver; answering the questionnaire is different from the waiver application itself.
To speak for a moment about whether and when BUSD will submit a waiver to open elementary schools, I must make several critical points about the obligations that have been placed on school districts in order for a waiver to be approved. An overview of the process is provided here. These obligations are significant, and include:
- Health Department approval based on disease conditions in Alameda County,
- Health screening protocols for students and staff,
- Plans for contact identification and tracing for confirmed COVID-19 cases,
- Testing protocols for staff, and evidence of a partnership with a testing provider,
- Posted plans for cleaning, disinfection and ventilation,
- Healthy hygiene practices including installation of hand washing stations,
- Cohorting of small stable groups for all activities,
- Plans for physical distancing, including entrance, egress and movement
- Plans for face coverings and other essential protective gear,
- Staff training and family education,
- Communications plans,
- Key constituent consultation
BUSD has been working actively on all of this. We have engaged a contractor to review site safety plans and staff training plans for all facilities. We have hired new staff for the purpose of contact tracing, have purchased a new health screening and contact tracing platform. Still, we are 4-6 weeks away from having this full infrastructure in place. We are also told to expect a turnaround of several weeks for review before completed waivers will be approved.
Fulfilling all these prerequisites make the approval of a waiver request considerably more complicated. A particular challenge is that districts will have to demonstrate their capacity to perform employee testing at regular intervals. This means that each California school district must identify and contract with a private testing company, and bear the costs of this ongoing testing regimen. We are working actively with the City of Berkeley on this as well, but the capacity to provide this level of asymptomatic screening (“surveillance testing”) is currently beyond the capacity of most school districts. We are hearing that some private schools are coming up with partnerships and plans, which may mean that once again the equity gap widens as some private schools may be able to open before most public schools, and under-resourced districts will struggle the most.
We recognize that there is a great need to reopen our schools, and that the impacts of school closures on students and families are considerable. We are fully committed to reopening in ways that are safe and measured, and to reporting our progress as we work towards this goal.
Other Important Updates
Meals: Effective the week of September 7, Grab and Go meals will now be available free to all children age 18 and younger on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 7:45 – 11:00 am. Pickup locations have changed and can be found here. Note that meal distribution will be closed on Monday, September 7 for the Labor Day holiday. Meal distribution will resume on Wednesday, September 9.
Air Quality: Due to ongoing air quality issues from Bay Area fires, including common occurrences of “orange” or “unhealthy for sensitive groups” Air Quality Index (AQI) readings, the District is updating communications procedures. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to check their local and regional AQI daily during the wildfire season:
- Air Now provides a regional AQI reading as well as a forecast for the following day.
- This Air Now Fire and Smoke Map shows more local Berkeley AQI numbers and includes Purple Air readings which are updated at ten-minute intervals.
- At “orange” or “unhealthy for sensitive groups” AQI levels, the District will notify teachers with guidance regarding students with sensitivities.
- At “red” or “unhealthy” AQI levels and above, the District will notify teachers and families with additional guidance.
Thank you for your patience as we endeavor to respond to nearby wildfires and poor air quality in addition to so much more.
I wish you and your family a peaceful Labor Day weekend, and offer my thanks for strong collective commitment to keeping all the members of our community as safe as possible in this pandemic.
Below, for your reference, please find a list of recently updated guidance to schools about Coronavirus/COVID-19
State & Federal
- Blueprint for a Stronger Economy: August 28, 2020
- CA Department of Public Health, Guidance on Small Cohorts: August 25, 2020
- CA Department of Public Health, FAQ on Targeted, Specialized Support: August 25, 2020
- CDC, Schools and Child Care Programs: August 18, 2020
- CDPH, COVID-19 Industry Guidance, Schools: Updated August 8, 2020
Regional (Six County + 1 City)
- Alameda County School Reopening Plan, v.7: August 27, 2020
Emergency Procedures During Distance Learning
August 20, 2020
As we continue to adapt to the current situation of Distance Learning, remote working and COVID-19, we are also facing some environmental challenges that we’ve confronted in prior years, including air quality alerts and power outages. These issues have different implications for distance learning and remote working situations. Following is some updated guidance to help you navigate these additional challenges.
Today, August 20, the East Bay region is experiencing smoke from area wildfires. We are monitoring local and regional measures of air pollutants–the Air Quality Index (AQI). The map below shows a color-coded AQI map from this morning.
AIR QUALITY GUIDANCE
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) provides the most local Berkeley air quality data. Here is a link to today’s BAAQMD data. The report this morning shows AQI levels in the moderate level, color-coded yellow, at Aquatic Park.
However, you may also see reporting from AirNow.Gov, which uses a regional number that is updated hourly, based on a station in East Oakland. It tends to be updated more frequently than the local Berkeley number, which may lag by two or three hours. If you go to the AirNow site and input Berkeley as your location, you will see a number that is actually generated in Oakland. That regional number yesterday was in the orange or red when Berkeley numbers were in the yellow.
We’ve confirmed with Berkeley Public Health that the local BAAQMD station in Berkeley is the best AQI number to use in general, but we will also monitor trends on the regional level and seek public agency forecast guidance where available.
GUIDELINES for DISTANCE LEARNING DURING AIR QUALITY ADVISORIES
Distance Learning will continue during most air quality advisories, but with modifications to student and/or staff assignments to be considered at the “orange” level and above.
CDE has provided guidelines for air quality for in-person school which provides a helpful starting point. As you’ll note below, when conditions are trending toward the orange zone or above for Berkeley, the PIO, Trish McDermott, will send out an alert and reminder of activity restrictions.
PLEASE NOTE: During distance learning, staff and families who are doing their work from a remote location outside of Berkeley should be aware that air quality at their location may be different from the AQI readings for Berkeley and should consult the BAAQMD station closest to their home or work location.
ED HUB HELP DURING AIR QUALITY SITUATIONS
The Ed Hub at the Berkeley Adult School, which is the site for distributing Chromebooks and other school supplies, is run in collaboration with the Berkeley Public Schools Fund. The Ed Hub, which is usually open Monday, Weds and Friday afternoons, will not operate when Berkeley is experiencing “red” AQI conditions. During “orange” AQI levels, or yellow levels that are trending orange, the Ed Hub may need additional volunteers, who do not have asthma or other sensitivities that would prevent them from working outdoors. If you are interested in helping out at the Ed Hub, please contact: email@example.com.
Electricity could be interrupted during Distance Learning for a variety of reasons, including a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS), a rolling blackout due to a heat wave, or other local conditions.
If a teacher is affected by a power outage and is not able to teach remotely, s/he should text the school principal so that a message to families can be sent out.
If a power outage prevents a student from joining an online class or completing assignments, families should contact their school’s administrative assistant when they are able to to inform the school of the reason for the absence.
In the event of sustained area-wide power outages or other environmental disruptions such that school activities cannot be conducted, the District will apply to the State for an attendance waiver and all students will be excused.
It is also possible that an employee may be evacuated from his or her home due to the threat of wildfire. In this case, BUSD wants the affected employee to tend to family safety as a first priority. The employee should contact their supervisor as soon as possible about the evacuation so that arrangements at work can be made. BUSD will work with employees on an individual basis in these circumstances.
Thank you for your attention to this advisory. We hope that conditions will improve, but we must be ready to adapt during California fire season. We will also share a version of this letter with parents/guardians.
Brent Stephens, Ed.D.
Berkeley Unified School District
Distance Learning & Home Safety Tips During Power Outages
August 17, 2020
Congratulations and thank you for on making it through this strange and stormy first day! This message just went out to BUSD families.
As you may have heard, due to extreme heat and high demand that may be greater than supply, the state’s electric grid operator may require PG&E to turn off power in rotating outages from 3pm – 10 pm each day from August 17 – 20. Outages typically last from 1 -2 hours. (This is not the same thing as a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) due to extreme fire danger.)
We recognize that if a power outage were to occur during Distance Learning hours, or during homework and lesson preparation time, this could create issues for families and staff in affected areas. If we all try to limit our power consumption during this heatwave, this can help, but it’s likely that at least some of us will experience a power outage.
Here is the PG&E website page that describes more about these power outages. You can also find tips for conserving power usage there. We’ll do our best to alert staff and families if we are informed in advance of a prolonged power outage.
WHAT TO DO BEFORE THE POWER GOES OUT:
- Make sure phones, hotspots and Chromebooks are fully charged.
- Prepare a supply kit with flashlights, first aid supplies, food, water and cash.
- Create a safety plan for all members of your family, including pets.
- See the PG&E Safety Action Center for how to build an emergency plan.
WHAT TO DO AFTER THE POWER GOES OUT:
- Unplug or turn off electronics, appliances and equipment to avoid damage caused by surges when the power is restored.
- Leave a single electric light on to alert you when the power returns. Then, plug in and turn your appliances back on, one at a time.
- Generators, camp stoves or charcoal grills should be used outdoors only. Do not use a gas stove for heat.
- Keep your refrigerator and freezer closed as much as possible. Here’s a guide to Food Safety During A Power Outage
Despite the thunder, lightning, rain and possible power outages, I hope that the first day of distance learning went well for you. I’ve heard reports of some really engaging, creative activities and look forward to hearing and sharing more this week.
Optimism, Even in Uncertain Times
August 14, 2020
Dear BUSD Board Members and Colleagues, This message will be sent to our families shortly. Thank you for all you are doing to make the beginning of the year a success under trying circumstances.
Dear BUSD Community,
On Monday, we begin another school year together, and we do so in an environment of great uncertainty. We wish we could tell you more about when and how schools will reopen in person, but there are just too many unknowns right now.
Still, we view Monday’s start to the school year with optimism, and are excited to see so much energy from our teachers as they prepare to welcome their students. This year’s work brings a well-organized schedule for distance learning, meaningful revisions to the curriculum, more professional development for our staff, and increased attention to the importance of small group support and family communication.
As we launch, let’s all note that we have accomplished so much since March, thanks to our caring staff and community. We have served tens of thousands of meals without interruption, distributed thousands of laptops to families, and shared hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations with Berkeley residents who need it most. Over the summer, we have made significant changes to the Distance Learning experience incorporating thoughtful feedback from parents/guardians, students, and staff.
As I write today, BUSD continues to receive evolving public health guidance about the risks associated with on-campus activity, and this guidance is developing to be more restrictive. In fact, as of last night, we have been told we can only conduct our Elementary School Family Meetings remotely. This is a huge disappointment to the principals, teaching staff and families who were really looking forward to the possibility of brief, socially distanced meetings on campus. Our principals and our risk manager are now developing revised protocols for picking up books and supplies, checking out library books, and more. Your school principal will continue to communicate with you about what this will look like at each school site.
Together, we are now watching as schools around the country are attempting a variety of strategies to reopen, and we are witnessing how difficult this is. When our local health conditions improve, BUSD is committed to continued partnership with our local health officers, the use of accurate data and informed scientific perspective, and a measured, cautious approach to reopening.
The Board of Education and all our staff recognize that many Berkeley families are in a near-impossible situation. We recognize that Distance Learning is not the same as in-person school, and that it does not address the needs of caregivers who must work during school hours. We are still trying to find solutions that will address the very real childcare needs, and we are continuing to work on plans for an eventual return to at least some in-person learning, so that when local conditions and health orders permit, we will be able to.
As so many Berkeley families have shared with me since March, we are in this together. While we are deeply disappointed that health orders do not permit us to be on-campus, I hope that we adults can all still convey to our children that this return to school is an opportunity to reconnect with teachers and friends, and even at a distance, we have much to be grateful for and excited about. My very best to you and your children for an engaging and safe start to the school year.
Class Lists, Start Times, Town Halls, COVID Resources
August 10, 2020
Dear BUSD Families, Students, and Staff,
We are now one week away from the start of the school year, and I write with important information for all families.
First, on behalf of all our district staff, welcome back. The first day of school, Monday, August 17th, is just a week away. While the school year begins in Distance Learning, I remain optimistic about our ability as a community to weather these difficult times together, keeping health and equity at the center of all our decisions.
This summer has been challenging because of the ongoing troubling news about the spread of COVID-19, and it has been inspiring, as mass protests continue to direct the attention of our leaders and institutions – BUSD included – to the ongoing need for racial justice. We all step into this new school year with commitments to health and equity for our students, family, and staff – and this will require that we work together. This is work we must embrace in all of its complexity.
In addition to this plan, I hope you’ll read about several important updates:
Most Class Lists Will be Available beginning August 10
Although class lists are usually distributed the day before school begins, this year elementary class lists will be available for families and students on August 10, as will schedules for students at Berkeley High School. Middle school principals are working to finalize their schedules this week. Elementary schools will email lists to families on the 10th, and middle and high school class schedules will be available by checking your family’s Illuminate account. Please reach out to your school principal if you experience an issue. Please note that BUSD is unable to distribute parent contact information to the school community due to privacy laws.
PTA Family Directories
Most school PTA’s are planning to expedite the creation of a parent directory so that families can reach out to one another as the year begins. Specific information about your school’s parent directory will come directly from the PTA.
School Start Times
Beginning on August 17th, all BUSD elementary schools will begin at 9:00 am. During the first two weeks of school, elementary teachers will begin each day with a class meeting and instruction, and will schedule individual family meetings during the rest of the day. Families will receive work and assessments from their child’s teacher, as well as “how to” videos related to Seesaw, Google Classroom, Zoom, and other applications that will be central to the distance learning experience.
Also beginning on August 17th, all BUSD middle schools and Berkeley High School will begin at 9:15 am, and this will be the start time during this period of distance learning. Berkeley Technology Academy begins the school day at 10:00.
When we surveyed parents/guardians and high school students, we found that more families (53%) and high school students (55%) preferred the earlier start time, fewer families (40%) and high school students (26%) preferred the later start time (with the remainder having no preference or choosing an intermediate time). Meanwhile, half of Berkeley High teachers with school-age children have a strong preference for a later start time. 40% of teachers with school-age children prefer the earlier start time. We regret there was no perfect solution that worked for everyone.
Virtual Town Halls
Last week, we were appreciative of the hundreds of families and students who joined us for Town Hall events about the new BUSD Distance Learning Plan. This week, we look forward to three additional Town Hall events. The Zoom Links are below and also posted at berkeleyschools.net
Monday, August 10, 6:30 – 8:00, Town Hall for Families of Children with Disabilities
Tuesday, August 11, 6:30 – 8:00, Affinity-Based Town Hall for African American Families
Wednesday, August 12, 6:00 – 7:00: Town Hall for Berkeley High School Students
Links to recordings of last week’s Town Halls are available on the BUSD YouTube channel, which is also where you can watch live streaming of events.
A recent addition to the BUSD YouTube channel is an August 5th webinar on Schools and Public Health during COVID, with presenters from UCSF and Berkeley Public Health, who responded to a Q&A with the BUSD management team and labor leadership.
Updated COVID-19 Resource Page
BUSD continues to update our COVID-19 Information and Resources web page on a regular basis. We encourage you to visit for additional information about meals, Chromebooks, mental health resources, and housing and financial support.
New COVID-19 Testing Pilot Program at Berkeley Adult School, 1701 San Pablo Avenue
BUSD is pleased to host a COVID-19 pilot testing program offered by the City of Berkeley to provide additional COVID-19 testing to the Berkeley community. Curative, Inc’s self-administered oral fluid test is widely used for drive-up testing in the City of Los Angeles. This pilot, which offers the same test in a walk-up kiosk, is part of the City’s efforts to expand access to testing for everyone in our community. Information about this testing pilot, including links for appointments, is available at this City of Berkeley link.
Materials Distribution This Week – Please Be Cautious
BUSD schools will begin distributing materials to families this coming week, August 10 – 14. Most schools have organized these distributions so that families can drive by the school. In the event that any parent, volunteer, or staff member is on-campus this week, please remember that we all share important responsibilities to keep each other safe. This includes wearing a face covering, keeping a six foot distance from other people, and frequently washing or sanitizing your hands.
As we welcome all our families back to a new school year, we continue to be committed to our Berkeley community, and to make our very best effort to adapt to the changing, challenging circumstances of this pandemic.
Back to School Fall 2020 Distance Learning Plan
July 31, 2020
Dear Colleagues, this message, with a link to our Fall Distance Learning Plan, will be sent to our families shortly.
Dear BUSD Community,
este mensaje estará disponible en español en nuestro sitio web al final del dia
With the Board of Education, I’m pleased to share the district’s Distance Learning Plan for the Fall of 2020. In this Back To School Fall 2020 plan, you’ll find detailed information about distance learning schedules at each grade level, including scheduled live teaching time with your child’s teachers, and for elementary students, ways that your child’s schedules will include enrichment, Special Education support, and English Language Development.
Many people contributed to Berkeley’s Fall Distance Learning Plan, including parents, students, teachers, and principals. I am grateful for the many hours of work, input, and feedback – the finished product draws together many creative ideas, and tries to balance rigor, consistency, small group engagement, and students’ developmental needs.
The plan is a significant step forward from our first efforts to support remote learning, and we have learned a lot together. We’re glad to introduce an elementary school “master schedule” that will tie together students’ daily learning, with Seesaw as a common learning tool in all TK-2 classrooms, and Google Classroom in all classes from Grade 3 to 12. We also thought very carefully about Special Education services, and the school-wide schedules we’re introducing will help teachers coordinate specialized instruction. We will continue key developments from last year, like Grab and Go meal distribution, Chromebooks and hotspot distribution to families and educators, and the Ed Hub.
For families with younger children, please know that we appreciate that time online is a developmental challenge. The schedule we describe here creates more evenness for instruction, but we understand that every child is different. As you look at the TK-Grade 1 schedule, please note that many Zoom sessions are optional. Also please note that all Elementary grades will begin the year with two weeks of Family Meetings, so that you can speak with your teacher about your child’s specific needs. We will design an attendance system that permits flexibility, and will work further with families and teachers to adapt to families’ individual circumstances.
As part of finalizing fall planning, we are surveying our middle and high school families about preferred school start times. Middle school could begin at 9:15 am or at 10:00 am, and Berkeley High School could begin at 9:15 am or 11:00 a.m. We are considering these proposals in order to alleviate some stresses for families with children in different grades, and to heed research about school start times for adolescents. Your views on this question are valuable, and we are weighing this decision for a possible Board of Education discussion on August 5th. A link to the survey for middle and high school families will be sent later today, and will also be posted on our website at www.berkeleyschools.net
We are also holding a series of Town Halls to explain and discuss our Distance Learning plan, including scheduling options, beginning with a Town Hall on Monday, August 3rd at 6:30 pm. The schedule for the Town Halls is posted here.
We continue to work on several important questions, including how to create childcare options for students on our campuses, and how to reopen our schools for a hybrid program when this can be done safely. We will continue to report our progress to you at regular intervals.
On behalf of the Board of Education and all our district staff, I express our sincere gratitude to our families, and our commitment to serve your children in this new year. We will continue to emerge stronger together.
Important Information about Fall 2020
July 8, 2020
This message is going out today to all BUSD families as an update on fall planning. Here is an advance copy.
Dear BUSD Families,
In order to prepare for the new school year beginning on August 17, our district leadership, teachers and staff have been working to adapt our facilities, programs and practices to follow constantly evolving state and local health guidelines.
BUSD is planning to transition to on-campus learning if the current Shelter-in-Place Order is modified to allow schools campuses to open, and when we are able to provide programs that comply with health orders and best practices.
The goal of BUSD in the 2020-2021 school year is to balance the complex variety of needs that students, families, and staff are currently confronting, including reducing the risk of COVID-19 for staff and students, addressing student learning loss and isolation, and supporting families to return to work. We are also committed to improving the quality of Distance Learning, increasing access to related technologies and connectivity for students and educators, maximizing on-campus learning opportunities and providing support to students and families who have been most impacted by the pandemic and shelter-in-place conditions..
Though our plans are still in development, we do know that on-campus learning will look very different from what we were used to before schools closed in March. We are treating the risk of COVID-19 seriously; there will be fewer students on campus, reduced schedules, requirements for face coverings for students and staff, social distancing, and other program and facility modifications.
This afternoon you will receive an important email from the District with the subject line “Fall Instructional Program” asking you to indicate your preference for how your student will participate in learning when the 2020-2021 school year begins on August 17. You’ll be asked to fill out an Instructional Choice Form and choose between these two models:
A Hybrid Model: This model is a hybrid in that it combines in-person learning and distance learning. This model assumes that County and City Health Officers amend the current Shelter-in-Place Order to permit instruction on school campuses. Students will be divided into groups that attend school two days per week, with a schedule that provides instruction online with teachers as well as independent work 3 days a week. The reason for dividing students into two groups is to create small, stable cohorts at the elementary level, and social distancing at the middle and high school level – two practices that are included in both County and City health guidelines for schools.
A Distance Learning Model: This model will support families who choose not to return to in-person instruction, with online instruction only. This model will also provide a backup plan in the event that a classroom or school must close down due to quarantine or local health orders. The revised Distance Learning model for next year will satisfy or exceed the new state requirements for daily instructional time, live interaction with teachers, and independent assignments.
I understand that this is an important decision to make, one made especially challenging due to the constantly evolving conditions and guidance regarding COVID-19. We also recognize that even if you select the Hybrid Model, it may not be possible to offer that option in August 2020 if conditions do not yet permit us to open schools to on-campus learning. In this case, students will all begin in Distance Learning before transitioning to a Hybrid Model when possible.
To help you make this decision, I have outlined our current plans for risk reduction in our schools. BUSD is working with Berkeley Public Health and in alignment with Alameda County Office of Education to prepare for on-campus learning. Current guidance includes, but is not limited to, the following risk reduction practices:
Students/families and staff self-screen at home and will also be screened before entering the building. Screening may include visual screening, temperature checks and checklist questions.
Cloth face coverings required (except when eating or drinking) for all staff and for students in Kindergarten and above, with the exception of staff and students unable to wear them due to special circumstances, in which case face shields are permissible as a substitute, worn with a cloth drape secured across the bottom.
Cohorts (aka Bubble Groups)
As practicable, students should remain in the same space and in groups as small and as consistent as possible. When it is not possible to remain in stable cohorts within the same space (middle and high school), face coverings and limiting group gatherings are a higher priority.
Social / Physical Distancing
As practicable, desks to be placed 4-6 feet apart and minimizing face-to-face contact. However, with stable cohorts in place it’s permissible to relax the 6 feet recommendation if it ensures more students receive in-class instruction, in which case face coverings and cohort stability are high priorities.
Additional time for handwashing and/or sanitizing will be provided for students. BUSD is also planning the installation of permanent handwashing/bottle filling stations as replacements for many of the existing drinking fountains and sinks on all campuses, to be completed during the fall semester.
Daily cleaning, including common and high-touch spaces in the school will be performed by custodians and other staff, and enhanced by the recent purchase of electrostatic cleaners. Training on facilities cleaning will be consistent with guidelines established by the CDC. Cleaning supplies will be provided to custodians, office staff, and teachers.
Ventilation and Outdoor Space Use
The use of outdoor spaces is being prioritized, and indoor air filters have been upgraded, including many up to MERV-13 (which also addresses air quality for smoke events.) For classrooms without filtration, BUSD is acquiring portable air purifiers for classrooms.
I appreciate your patience and understanding as we work to develop a plan to provide the best possible educational opportunities, while taking seriously the need to reduce the risks associated with the coronavirus. Please look for an email later today with a link to the Instructional Choice Form where you can indicate your choice for your student(s), and note these important dates for further communications:
|July 8||Instructional Program Choice Form sent to Families|
|July 15||Deadline to submit Instructional Program Choice Form|
|July 15||Fall 2020 update at Special School Board meeting|
|July 16||Email update to community about Fall 2020 Plans|
|July 29||Approval of Fall 2020 Plan at Special School Board Meeting|
|July 31||Final Fall 2020 plan communicated to staff and families|
|August 3-14||Weekly updates to students and staff about Fall Program|
|August 17||First day of school for students|
P.S. You may have seen an article in Berkeleyside (July 7) about BUSD’s fall plans. Unfortunately the article contained several errors. Please rely upon our direct communications, and on board meetings, for the best source of current information on fall planning. Here is information about how to attend online School Board meetings.
We have asked for corrections to the Berkeleyside article, including the incorrect statement that BUSD is not planning to have middle and high school students on campus in the fall. BUSD is currently working actively on a plan to reopen middle and high school campuses, if this is permitted by the County and City Health Department’s Health orders. A return to on-campus learning in middle and high school, just as with elementary schools, would require a reduction of class sizes by 50% so that social distancing is possible. This would reduce the number of days that most students can be on campus to two days per week.