Superintendent’s State of the District on Wednesday, January 27
January 15, 2021
Dear Berkeley Community, Families and Colleagues,
Even though only two weeks have passed since New Year’s Day, it feels much longer, given all that has happened. We’re all contending with “pandemic fatigue,” even with vaccines on the horizon. We miss being with each other, we miss school, and on top of it all, we are haunted by the horrifying assault on the Capitol and continued threats to safety, to racial justice, and to our democracy.
I am hoping we can take the next few days ahead, with the commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, and the inauguration of new leadership, to take a deep breath, remember Dr. King’s words about our “inescapable network of mutuality,” and recommit ourselves to the well-being of our beloved community.
Here at the District Office we continue working toward opening our schools for in-person learning, incorporating the Governor’s new Safe Schools for All Plan, while also working to build the budget and plans for the 2021-2022 school year..
I will be sharing some of my thoughts about the path ahead at the annual community meeting known as the Superintendent’s State of the District on Wednesday, January 27 at 6:00 pm. Please join me at this Zoom Webinar link. We will also record the meeting to upload to our District YouTube channel.
I hope we can spend this weekend being gentle with ourselves and those around us, connecting in meaningful but safe ways with friends and loved ones, grounding ourselves in the beauty of the natural world, and finding further reservoirs of hope.
It is uplifting to know that on Tuesday, January 20, a former Thousand Oaks Elementary School student will be sworn in as the first woman, and the first Black and South Asian Vice President of the United States. Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris is a reminder of why we collectively do the work we do to educate BUSD students. I hope this moment is inspiring to you and your family.
Brent Stephens, Ed.D.
Curative COVID-19 Testing Advisory
January 8, 2021
Dear BUSD Staff,
This week, we learned about an advisory issued by the FDA about Curative’s COVID-19 test. The advisory indicates the FDA’s concern about the rate of false negatives, and points out two concerns about the current use of Curative tests around the country: that the test must be supervised by trained staff, and that the test was originally approved for use with individuals who have experienced symptoms of COVID-19 prior to be given a Curative test. As a reminder, BUSD testing is proctored by trained registered nurses. We added a third nurse to the District’s testing team this week.
The FDA has provided no data or guidance to accompany its advisory
We are now seeking additional information from Curative and other public health agencies about the FDA advisory, and we understand that Curative disputes the FDA’s concerns.
Meanwhile, many jurisdictions, including school districts and cities across the country, continue to see value in the Curative test, even with the potential for false negatives, as an element of the tools we have at hand. In consultation with local health officials, we feel for now that it is best to continue the use of Curative tests as one element of our overall risk mitigation strategy, alongside social distancing, face coverings, symptom screening, contact tracing, facilities modifications and other hygiene practices. We will continue to keep you updated as we learn more and explore additional options.
Winter Holiday, and Planning for 2021
December 18, 2020
Dear BUSD Colleagues,
As the winter holiday approaches, I want to thank you again for all you are doing to support students, schools, and each other during this challenging time. I deeply appreciate each and every one of you.
I wish you all the very best for the upcoming winter break, when I hope you can take time for yourself to rest and relax. Here’s to saying farewell to 2020, and to emerging into a better year together.
Below is a message to families which is also going out today as an update on District plans for January 2021. Given the current Stay-at-Home orders for our county, I needed to let families know that it would not be possible to open schools, even in a hybrid learning environment, in early January.
We still have a ways to go, both in terms of the trajectory of the spread of the virus, and in terms of agreements with our labor partners, before we will be ready to bring more students back to campus. This will be deeply disappointing to many families, but in the interests of transparency, I feel it is important to share where we are at this point in our plans and discussions.
December 18, 2020
Dear BUSD Community,
On this final day of instruction for 2020, I write to wish you and your family as happy a holiday as possible. I hope that these coming days of school vacation offer some respite and a change of pace.
While we are passing through yet another tough time in this epidemic as the surge continues both locally and across every part of our country, there is at least some light ahead, as vaccines have been delivered this week to some of our local health care workers, and we look forward to the possibility of more widespread availability of the vaccine in 2021.
I continue to be very thankful to everyone in our BUSD community for your diligence in protecting the health of our community. It is particularly hard to enter the holiday period, when we would ordinarily look forward to gathering with friends and family, under another Stay at Home order, but I know we are all determined to continue to do our part to slow the spread of the virus.
The Alameda County Stay at Home Order, which was imposed on Wednesday of this week, will remain in effect until at least January 7. We don’t know when the County will be redesignated from Purple to a lower, less restrictive Tier. However, since COVID-19 transmission rates continue to rise in an alarming way, and as a result of the mandatory public health orders, the Board of Education’s January 13th target date for reopening Pre-K and Grades TK-2 program is simply not possible to meet.
This means that we will return in January to Distance Learning, for all grades, and that we cannot say at this point when our schools will reopen. All public school districts in Alameda County are in the same situation.
The Board of Education, at its most recent meeting on December 16, directed staff to continue negotiating with the district’s union partners so that we are ready to open as soon as it is safe and legal to do so. Leadership of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers (BFT), our teachers’ union, as well as district staff, have spent many, many hours planning for, and participating in, these negotiations. I appreciate BFT’s partnership as we work through the many complications of a hybrid reopening plan for our elementary schools.
After weeks of bargaining about school reopening, we also now have a clear idea of some differences between the district’s current view on how to reopen elementary schools and the proposals BFT has put forward. BFT leadership noted some of these differences in our positions during the union comment period at the December 16 School Board meeting. Among these differences, some of the more substantial ones are:
Who Should Teach In-Person. The district has created a process for employees who are at higher risk from COVID-19 to seek a legal accommodation from in-person work. The district believes that this accommodations process provides strong additional protection for high-risk individuals. BFT is proposing that only teachers who volunteer to provide in-person instruction would do so.
When Elementary Schools Should Reopen. The district believes that we should reopen when the community transmission rate returns to the Red Tier, in keeping with state and county public health guidelines. BFT has proposed that school reopening would begin when the City is in the Orange Tier, and that schools would close again if the City returns to the Red Tier.
Student COVID-19 Testing. The district is working diligently to create a student COVID-19 testing program. However, because it is not a requirement for reopening, testing cannot be made mandatory for students. The state has also not provided any additional resources to districts to support student testing. For these reasons, the district does not feel that student COVID testing should be a prerequisite for school reopening. BFT has proposed that students must be tested in order to attend school.
Our teachers are performing heroic work this year, as they engage, instruct, and inspire students over remote platforms that are far from ideal. They have my gratitude, respect, and admiration. As I share this information about the bargaining process, I strongly assert my respect for our BUSD teachers and our classified staff, whom we care for and admire, as well as my concern for their safety, alongside my strong belief that our students need to be back in school.
All of this is to say that we will begin in January without knowing when we will be permitted to reopen schools due to health conditions, and also without knowing when we will have labor agreements in place to reopen. The bargaining process is both a legal requirement, and a way of increasing the chances that our school reopenings will succeed.
For those of you who have students in our middle or high schools, please know that we continue to work on plans for a hybrid opening of school for our older children as well. We also continue to work on constantly improving the Distance Learning experience for all children, as we know that Distance Learning will remain a component of schooling for all students for most or all of next semester.
I know that BUSD and all four of our unions remain committed to reaching agreements about how and when to reopen our schools safely. We will keep the community informed about our progress, including our ability to reach each of the milestones in the bargaining process: a Tentative Agreement reached by the bargaining teams, ratification of the Tentative Agreement by each union’s general membership, and then Board of Education approval.
We’re going to persevere through this challenge together, as a community. For the next two weeks, please accept my very best wishes for the well-being of your family.
BUSD COVID-19 Protocols and Free Wellness Resources
December 11, 2020
Thank you to those who attended the December 9 All-Staff Meeting. If you weren’t able to attend, you may view the recorded meeting at this YouTube link. You must be logged in to your @berkeley.net account to make this work. The slide deck from the all-staff meeting is attached to this email.
The meeting covered the following:
Update on Local COVID-19 Health Conditions
COVID-19 Information Resources and Key Definitions
BUSD COVID-19 Case Communications and Protocols
BUSD’s COVID-19 Testing Program
Vaccine Distribution Update and Resolution
Self-Care with Claremont Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Please note that due to their company policy, the wellness presentation from the Claremont EAP representative is not included in the recording, however the slide deck from the Claremont EAP presentation is attached below.
Important Wellness and Self-Care Information During these Challenging Times
Claremont EAP offers an abundance of free wellness resources to BUSD staff. These resources are especially important right now, given the challenges so many are facing, the upcoming holidays, and the ongoing COVID-19 concerns and Shelter in Place Orders.
If you or your household family members or children through the age of 26 (regardless of residence) need assistance, please take advantage of the various resources offered through the EAP to help you decompress and manage emotional health concerns or life challenges.
Please take a few minutes to review this information below or visit the Claremont EAP website.
You may also view this Claremont EAP Employee Orientation Video.
Contact the EAP if you need help dealing with:
Stress, anxiety, grief or depression
Parenting or finding care for a loved one
The EAP is 100% confidential and available 24/7 365 days per year.
The EAP offers no-cost counseling and a referral service that puts you in touch with experts who are available via phone or video. Each member of your household and your children are provided with up to eight (8) counseling sessions per incident per rolling 12 months.
Claremont EAP also offers a Positivity Center where you will find online resources based on Positive Psychology and Mindfulness and self-help techniques to improve wellbeing.
They offer up to ten free sessions annually in a Peer Support Program where you can join support meetings and remain anonymous. These groups are confidential and led by Certified Peer Specialist or Recovery Coaches.
Claremont EAP has introduced an emotional support chatbot, “Tess,” to boost wellness too. Powered by Artificial Intelligence, the chatbot is designed to help build resilience and self awareness by practicing coping skills. Tess is available 24/7 and while not a live person, can provide you with reminders and check-ins to help reinforce skills learned. To begin working with Tess, text “hello” to 650-825-9634 and use “Claremont” as your employer.
Over the upcoming break, please consider registering with the EAP to gain access to a wide range of resources to help with any life event.
Four Quick Steps to Register at Claremont EAP
Select “Employees & Families ” in the top menu bar.
Then select “Personal Advantage Website” to get to the registration page.
Use BUSD for the “Company Name” during registration.
You can also call ( 800) 834-3773 to gain access to these valuable resources.
Please take care of yourself, and let’s also be sure to take care of each other over the next few weeks.
Optional All-Staff COVID Protocols and Wellness Meeting
December 8, 2020
Please join me at an optional all-staff meeting Wednesday, December 9 at 2:30pm. As we continue through this pandemic together, I want to share some important information about BUSD’s COVID-19 testing program, on-site COVID-19 case protocols, and resources for wellness and self care during these challenging times. The meeting will be recorded so the information shared is available to all staff.
Your Personal Well-Being and New Health Orders
December 4, 2020
Dear Berkeley Unified Colleagues,
I hope that every one of you is well at the end of this week. I feel great concern for your personal well-being as we enter December, still in the pandemic. We continue to face a daunting set of challenges. For all of us, this latest rise in the rates of COVID-19 transmission and this week’s new Stay at Home order are front of mind; we’re faced with intensifying concerns for our loved ones and for our community, and without the comfort of a certain plan. Once again, each of you is carrying more weight than feels fair. You’re also hearing a broad set of concerns about the cumulative impact of the pandemic on our students and their families, and I know that this affects each of you.
I am aware that our district’s public conversations about school reopening – at Town Halls and Board meetings – may feel at odds with the news about rising COVID-19 infections. Although I can’t predict what December and January will look like, Berkeley Unified is still committed to following the school guidance of our state, county and city health officers. Any decision to reopen schools will hinge on an improvement in local public health conditions.
Specifically, Alameda County will have to achieve and sustain the rates of test positivity and transmission associated with the “Red” Tier for four weeks before any school in the County may reopen. If this current wave of infections continues, as most experts predict it will, these requirements are likely to result in the delay of our mid-January target reopening date for Early Childhood Education and Elementary Schools.
Today, Health Officers for the Counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, and Santa Clara as well as the City of Berkeley announced they will implement the State’s Regional Stay Home Order to slow the surge of COVID-19 in the region and to preserve hospital Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity. Effective in Alameda County on December 7, the new Order will remain in place until January 4, 2021. Additionally, the Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) and the Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD) issued a joint press release today clarifying that these new Orders do not make any significant changes to school reopening scenarios that were put in place two weeks ago by the return to the Purple Tier. This means that Phase 1 programs will continue to stay open, that BUSD essential staff will continue to come to work, and that teachers may continue to choose to provide distance learning from their classrooms.
As we continue through this pandemic together, here is some important information for you.
I will be holding an optional, brief staff webinar which can be accessed here on Wednesday, December 9th at 2:30pm to go over these key facts again:
Stay at Home If You Are Feeling Sick: Before you come to work in person at any of our district buildings, please be sure to complete your daily symptom check through the Frontline Health Portal. Completing this app every day before you come to work in person is required, and serves as an important reminder that you should not come to work if you are experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19. Staying at home when you’re feeling sick is one of the best ways to keep each other safe; that’s a priority more important than coming in to work in person.
COVID-19 Case Reporting at BUSD: As we experience more widespread COVID-19 cases in the East Bay, there are now members of our BUSD community who report having symptoms and/or having a positive COVID test. When they also report being present at our school campuses or facilities, we follow strict case safety and notification protocols developed in partnership with the City of Berkeley Public Health Department.
We clean all the places on campus or at a facility where an individual would have been during the infectious period. The District informs the City of Berkeley Public Health Department of the case, conducts contact tracing, and identifies any close contacts. A close contact is someone who was less than six feet away from an individual case for a cumulative total of 15 minutes on a day during the potentially infectious period. The District then sends notifications to staff and parents/guardians as required.
If you are identified as a close contact of a case, you will receive instructions to go home/stay home and to follow quarantine instructions provided by the City of Berkeley. You will also be notified if there was a case at the campus or facility where you work, even when contact tracing indicates you are not a close contact of the case. You will receive this notification even if you are currently working from home. In this instance, there is nothing you need to do.
The District reports all cases where the individual was on a BUSD campus or at a BUSD facility during their infectious period on this COVID-19 Confirmed On-Site Case Dashboard.
COVID-19 Testing: We are starting our second round of mandatory BUSD Employee COVID-19 testing next week for all staff who work in person. We learned a great deal about organizing this testing in our first effort, and next week you’ll see that we have rethought the testing location, staffing the testing kiosks, and making an appointment. By the time we conduct our third round of employee COVID-19 testing after Winter break, we hope to be able to offer this testing at each school and work location.
Let’s continue to take care of each other, be patient, and stay in partnership. Our compassion is more necessary than ever.
November 19, 2020
We are traveling a difficult road together, and I hope you are looking forward to your well-deserved holiday break. Even though this Thanksgiving may not include the kinds of gatherings of friends and family that we all wish we could have, it is still a time to pause and rest and be thankful for what we do have.
Today I came to work and was greeted by chalk art, signs and cards from BUSD families that brightened my day and that of everyone working here at 2020 Bonar!
A peek into our classrooms
I’m grateful for all the meaningful and inspiring ways our educators are finding to help our students navigate this time. This week, fifth graders in Carla Innis’s class learned about the powerful expression of gratitude of the Six Nations peoples, known as the “Thanksgiving Address of the Haudenosaunee,”and watched this video of an elder of the Onondaga Nation explaining its origins. Acknowledging and honoring the history and presence of indigenous people is an important part of Thanksgiving celebrations. At this week’s School Board meeting, Resolution 21-014 was adopted to annually recognize the month of November as Indigenous People’s Heritage Month, and acknowledge that our city and schools are on the unceded land of the Muwekma Ohlone people.
Students in Jackie Omania’s class are keeping gratitude journals, and listening to the song Grateful by Nimo Patel – give it a listen! And take a look at this drawing that was posted on our door by a student from Sylvia Mendez!
Whatever your holiday traditions, I hope everyone will take very seriously the current level of spread of COVID-19, with most of our state, including Alameda County, going back to the highest “widespread” level of disease. Health officials have strongly advised against holiday travel. Bay Area Health Officers, including City of Berkeley Health Officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez, have issued advice about holiday gatherings that include keeping such gatherings small, safe, stable and short, in hopes that if we can do so, we will emerge in 2021 with our beloved family and friends still healthy.
I hope you find time to rest, relax and enjoy meaningful moments during this holiday week. Please stay safe, and try to take a real break from work. I am personally grateful for all the ways in which there has been a passionate collective effort to adapt to this most challenging time, always keeping our students’ wellbeing at the center of all we do.
PS: Testing Update
I appreciate your patience as we launched our COVID-19 staff testing program. We are working on an improved testing program we expect to relaunch on the week of December 9.
The Monday November 30 – Tuesday December 1 testing deadline for returning to on-site work has been rescinded. This is no longer a testing requirement for returning to work after the holiday. Please continue to do all you can to slow the spread by limiting gatherings, wearing face coverings, maintaining social distance, and washing hands frequently. Together, we can make a difference.
Curative Testing Update: Please Read
November 16, 2020
Dear BUSD Classified, Certificated, and Administrative Colleagues –
We had our first “BUSD Only” COVID-19 Testing Day for employees at the Curative testing location at Berkeley Adult School on Friday, and this turned out to be more challenging than we could have imagined. I know that many of you waited in a long line, which impacted your work or teaching schedule for the rest of the day. In the afternoon, many BUSD staff had to wait in the rain, which made the experience even more difficult.
Regrettably, there were also reports that some BUSD staff yelled at Curative employees, who were doing their best in a new situation and were not to blame for anyone’s inconvenience.
Leading up to last Friday’s testing day, there were issues with Curative’s appointment system, which Curative was adapting and updating on a daily basis because of how new it is to them to work with a school district. These changes added to the confusion.
For all of this, I apologize.
If you were unable to be tested on November 13, you may still report to work, and you do not need to schedule a test until we announce the next testing window. If you are coming to work in person, please remember to use the “Frontline” self-screener app every day to report any COVID symptoms or contacts.
Though hundreds of us did take a COVID test last week, we are planning changes to employee COVID-19 testing because of what we learned in our first attempt:
We will work with Curative to create more options for our next COVID testing day, which should logically happen after Thanksgiving break.
We hope to provide each employee with multiple options for getting a Curative test. We will look into whether there can be more than one day set aside, longer windows, and/or specific appointment times.
We are hoping to add an option for staff to test at additional work locations, other than the Berkeley Adult School site.
We will also work with Curative to establish clearer procedures for scheduling an individual appointment on days other than the “BUSD only” day.
We plan to meet with Curative on Monday, and we commit to having additional information for you over the course of this week.
Last, I’d like to offer one clarification about Curative and Frontline. These are two different companies, with two different functions.
Curative: This is BUSD’s COVID-19 testing partner, and also provides COVID-19 tests for the City of Berkeley and other Bay Area sites. We anticipate Curative providing testing for employees who work on site at about an “every two weeks” schedule.
Frontline: In addition to regular testing, another way we keep each other safe and healthy is to use a “screener” to check for possible COVID symptoms every day that we come to work or school.
Everyone of us who comes to work in person must use the Frontline Health Portal app every morning before coming to work. Frontline has a checklist of symptoms, and if anyone indicates they have COVID-19 symptoms, or have had a close contact with someone who tested positive, or have tested positive, they must stay home and contact their supervisor. The same app can be used by students/families as screeners before coming to school.
Please know that we appreciate your efforts to adapt to all these changes, and your patience as we engage with all these new partners to perform work that is new to them and to us. Public schools have been required to organize every one of these strategies – testing, screening, facilities preparation, contact tracing – with virtually no support. Every one of us is fatigued by the ongoing uncertainty of this pandemic, the anxiety of rising case rate, and the tensions in every California community about school reopening. We’ll take this one step at a time, and we’ll do this together.
Employee Covid Testing
November 5, 2020
Dear BUSD Employees,
I write to express my thanks to all of you who have now downloaded the Frontline Health Portal app, and have created an account so that you can report each day that you are free of COVID-19 symptoms.
If you have not done so yet, all BUSD employees are expected to create a Frontline account, and all employees who are working at any BUSD school or department must submit a daily report that you are symptom free. Here are instructions about how to do this.
Mandatory Employee COVID-19 Testing
Over many months, we have been working together to ensure that our schools and departments are as safe as possible during this pandemic. Last night, at the November 4 Board of Education meeting, the Board approved a contract with Curative to begin a regular program of employee COVID-19 testing. These tests are free to employees, and are fast and painless. These COVID tests also provide all of us with an added layer of precaution: in addition to other strategies like face coverings, social distancing, and cleaning, COVID testing will allow us to know at regular intervals that we are detecting the possible presence of COVID-19 in the district.
For now, I am directing all employees who are working in person – including managers, classified staff, and teachers who are teaching remotely in their classroom – to work with your principal or supervisor to find time during the work day to go to Berkeley Adult School at 1701 San Pablo Avenue to be tested at the Curative kiosk located in the BAS parking lot. Parking is plentiful. The test itself takes only a minute, and the total time, including standing in line, is between 15-30 minutes.
- Employees who are working directly with students as cohort instructors at Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and Jefferson will be required to be tested on November 6, prior to the start of the program on November 9. (Please note that we do not plan to start student cohorts at Oxford on November 9; we may expand to Oxford as early as November 16, depending on the availability of volunteer staff.)
- All other employees who are working in any BUSD school or building will be required to be tested no later than November 13. Please work directly with your supervisor to schedule a time during your shift to go for your COVID test at Berkeley Adult School. On Friday, November 13, special arrangements have been made with Curative for a “BUSD Staff Line” in order to further reduce any wait time.
- All employees who are working at any BUSD campus or building will be expected to take another COVID test on either November 30 or December 1, following the Thanksgiving break.
- All employees who are working at any BUSD campus or building will be expected to take another COVID test on either January 4 or 5, following the Winter break.
Before you go to BAS, you will need to sign up for a COVID test by going to the link below with your smartphone or computer. Please have your health insurance card available when you sign up, as it requires a photo of both sides of the card so your insurance is billed for the test.
Here is a video of what the Curative COVID test is like. You’ll see that it is a simple cheek swab, and there is no pain associated with this test. Curative has been providing testing in Berkeley for many months and has a positive track record.
The results will be sent within 48 hours directly to you at the smartphone you used to register with Curative. If your COVID-19 test is positive, please do not come to work, and notify your supervisor. You will also have the option to have your results shared with BUSD’s Human Resources department – but only if you choose. If you do choose to disclose this information to Human Resources, COVID testing information is protected by Federal law and will be handled with complete privacy by the district.
Looking into the future, we are working directly with Curative to be able to test all employees at their work location, instead of at Berkeley Adult School. We will keep you updated as these plans take shape.
Please know that we are also working closely with health officials to determine the frequency of required employee COVID testing. In the future, our goal, which we will need to work towards, is that all employees will be tested at least every two weeks, starting in January, 2021.
Finally, we are working on developing a method for student testing, but because of the far larger scale of testing students, these plans are still not completed.
I thank you all in advance for your cooperation with this directive. I recognize that this adds an inconvenience to your work day, and trust that you see that this is a step we can take together to protect the safety of our staff, students, and community.
All Staff Town Hall, Thursday, November 5 at 3:00
November 2, 2020
Dear BUSD Classified, Certificated, and Administrative Staff,
In the last month, the level of COVID-19 transmission in both Alameda County and the City of Berkeley has decreased steadily – a welcome contrast to the rising rates of infection in many parts of the country.
Berkeley Unified’s Board of Education has voted to approach reopening in a phased manner, with Pre-K Grades TK-2 targeted to reopen on January 13 and Grades 3-5 on January 20. These mid-January dates were selected so that a reopening would not immediately follow the Winter vacation.
The Board of Education plans to discuss middle and high school reopening at its meeting on November 4. No formal action about middle and high school is planned for this Board meeting.
Between now and the January 13 target date, BUSD is working to launch a small set of K-5 student support cohorts at only a few elementary schools. This program seeks to provide an opportunity to come to campus for a small number of students who are most struggling during this period of school facilities closures. We are referring to this program as Phase 1 of our gradual plan to reopen our schools.
As an additional way to share information about this Phase 1 elementary cohort support program, I am offering a virtual “All Staff Town Hall” on Thursday, November 5 at 3:00.
The virtual meeting is a chance to learn more about Phase 1, even if you are not able to participate on one of these four elementary campuses. At the meeting, I’ll plan to review the key decisions made so far by the Board of Education, provide an update on our Reopening Readiness Dashboard, share BUSD’s new Campus Safety Plan, and describe our Phase 1 program.
Here is the link to the All Staff Town Hall.
I look forward to seeing you there!
Important Staff Information: Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) Tonight
October 25, 2020
Later this morning, families will receive the message below about tonight’s Public Safety Power Shutoff(PSPS) and the Red Flag Alert for the Bay Area. It will also be posted on our website. The Spanish translation follows the English message.
Please visit the PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff website. Use the address checker, and the map, to determine if your home will lose power tonight. If you expect to lose power, please find an alternative site to work Monday. Teachers can work from their classrooms. If you haven’t been teaching from your classroom and expect to do so on Monday, please let your principal know. Please also bring your Chromebooks and devices, as there may not be a supply available at schools. Remember to follow all COVID-19 risk mitigation protocols including wearing a face covering, social distancing and hand washing at school sites.
At this time, PG&E has informed the district that John Muir is the only school impacted by the PSPS. John Muir teachers will receive additional information. PG&E is estimating that power will be restored beginning at 10:00 pm Monday. We will continue to monitor the situation.
Dear Berkeley Community,
Due to a major weather event in the Bay Area with expected high winds, PG&E is issuing a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) to begin today, Sunday October 25 for East Bay regions including some areas in Berkeley. PG&E is indicating the PSPS is likely to begin this evening between 8:00 – 10:00 pm. PG&E is estimating that power may be restored at 10:00 pm on Monday, October 26.
Additionally, the National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning that will be in effect from today until Tuesday morning.
The City of Berkeley Advised:
With high fire danger starting Sunday at 11am, everyone in Berkeley, especially residents in the Berkeley hills, should stay on heightened alert, keep phones charged and nearby, and consider leaving the hills before Sunday afternoon – especially if they would have trouble getting out quickly in a fire.
After the weather event passes, PG&E will patrol power lines, make any necessary repairs, and then begin to restore power.
As of this time, John Muir Elementary School is the only BUSD school likely to be without power on Monday and possibly Tuesday. Since educators live throughout the East Bay in communities that may lose power, it is possible that some online classes may not be held.
If your home is without power, or your student’s online synchronous class is not held because the teacher is without power, please have your student work asynchronously on assignments to the extent possible. When it is possible to do so, please let your teacher know if you were impacted by the PSPS and your student wasn’t able to attend a class.
What to Do Today
- Charge your Chromebooks, WiFi hotspots, cell phones and other devices.
- Sign up for AC Alert, Berkeley’s primary emergency notification system.
- Check your address on the PG&E PSPS page to see if you will experience an outage.
- See PG&E tips for preparing for a PSPS.
BUSD will continue to monitor the situation.
Estimada Comunidad en Berkeley:
Debido a un fuerte evento climático en el Área de la Bahía esperando fuertes vientos, PG&E está emitiendo un Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) el cual comenzará hoy domingo 25 de octubre para las regiones del Este de la Bahía incluyendo algunas áreas en Berkeley. PG&E está indicando que probablemente el PSPS comenzará esta noche entre las 8:00 – 10:00 pm. PG&E calcula que la energía podría ser restaurada a partir de las 10:00 pm del lunes 26 de octubre.
Además, el Servicio Meteorológico Nacional (National Weather Service) ha emitido una Advertencia de Alerta Roja la cual estará en efecto desde hoy hasta el martes por la mañana.
El Gobierno de la Ciudad de Berkeley Aconseja:
Con el alto peligro de incendio a partir del domingo a las 11 de la mañana, todas las personas en Berkeley, especialmente los residentes en las montañas/colinas de Berkeley, deben permanecer en alerta máxima, mantener los teléfonos cargados y al alcance, y considerar el abandonar las montañas/colinas antes del domingo por la tarde – especialmente si ellos tuvieran problemas para salir rápidamente en caso de un incendio.
Después de que pase el evento climático, PG&E vigilará las líneas eléctricas, hará las reparaciones necesarias y luego comenzará a restaurar la energía.
De momento, la Escuela Primaria John Muir es la única escuela en BUSD que probablemente estará sin energía el lunes y probablemente el martes. Debido a que los educadores viven a través de todo el Este de la Bahía en comunidades que pudieran perder el suministro de energía, es posible que no se realicen algunas de las clases en línea.
i su hogar no cuenta con electricidad, o la clase simultánea en línea de su estudiante no se está llevando a cabo debido a que el maestro no tiene electricidad, por favor haga que su estudiante trabaje de forma independiente en las tareas asignadas en la medida de lo posible. En cuanto le sea posible hacerlo, por favor, hágale saber a su maestro si usted fue impactado por el PSPS y debido a eso su estudiante no pudo asistir a una clase.
Que Hacer el Día de Hoy
- Recargue sus Chromebooks, WiFi hotspots, teléfonos celulares y otros dispositivos.
- Inscríbase en AC Alert, El sistema principal de notificación de emergencias de Berkeley.
- Verifique su domicilio en la página PSPS de PG&E para ver si usted experimentará una interrupción en el servicio de energía eléctrica.
- Vea los consejos de PG&E para prepararse para un PSPS.
BUSD continuará monitoreando la situación.
October 23 Update from Superintendent
October 23, 2020
Dear BUSD Colleagues,
Two weeks ago, at the Board of Education meeting on October 7, the Board voted to approve a plan to begin reopening our PreK and Elementary schools by first establishing on-campus support for small cohorts of students. The decision is a commitment to making progress towards reopening schools, while taking a warranted level of caution about the health of our students and staff.
This week, on Wednesday, October 21, the Board of Education met to consider a target reopening date for a PreK and Elementary Hybrid Learning program. After passionate public comment and careful deliberation, the Board voted unanimously to approve the Superintendent’s recommendation to establish January 13 as a target date for reopening PreK and elementary schools. This target date is a realistic assessment of the time it will take to finalize a hybrid model for on-campus learning, reach formal agreements with our labor partners, and complete each element of our BUSD Elementary School Reopening Readiness Dashboard.
The district’s attention is currently turned fully to the task of beginning small group support for some of our PreK and elementary students – what we are calling “Phase 1” of our reopening plans. Given that we are committed in this phase to instructional staff who volunteer for work on our campuses, we anticipate that only a limited number of seats will be available – at least at the start of this program. To ensure that this small-group support program is successful, we will pilot this approach at only four of our BUSD elementary schools: Jefferson, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and the new Oxford site at West Campus. Students in this pilot program will be limited to coming from these four schools, and will be selected by the school’s intervention team. As we assess the success of this pilot, and the availability of staff, we will look to expand this effort.
We will continue to keep you informed about our progress towards reopening our schools.
As always, I am deeply grateful to our parent and guardian community, to our students, and to our staff.
Important Report Card and Parent Conference Schedule Changes
October 30: Non-school day for middle school and high school students
November 20: Non-school day for elementary school students
For elementary school families, please note that due to Distance Learning and the Parent Conferences held in August this school year, the end of the Elementary First Trimester has been moved to November 6, 2020. Parent-Teacher Conferences (where report cards will be distributed) at the Elementary level will be moved to November 16-20. Elementary Report Cards will be a narrative description of the student’s strengths and weaknesses in the academic areas.
Because of this change, October 26-30 will be a regular Distance Learning week with instruction on Friday, October 30 for elementary families. November 20th will be a non-school day for Elementary Students.
Middle and High School staff and students will still have a non-school day on October 30 and a regular distance learning day on November 20. This is consistent with the current published school calendar.
Possible Power Outages Starting on Sunday, October 25
We are monitoring possible power outages in the East Bay that may be starting this Sunday October 25. The PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) website currently indicates some small areas of Berkeley in the Claremont neighborhood may be affected, as well as other locations throughout the East Bay. We will continue to monitor the situation.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.