On Friday, September 18 at 8:59 p.m., Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Brent Stephens emailed his elementary school community: “Despite the very obvious limitations of distance learning for the children of Berkeley Stephens wrote under cover of weekend obscurity, the district would not continue the state-offered waiver process for the return of TK-6 students to their schools in counties with a level of COVID risk is coded in purple (widespread).
Fortunately, BUSD – and similarly-located county schools across the state – no longer have to worry about the cumbersome waiver process. They can begin to tackle the crucial task of overcoming the “very obvious limitations of distance learning” by bringing California students back to school.
On Tuesday, September 22, the state officially changed Alameda County from purple (widespread) to red (substantial). Red County schools have the the green light from the state to “reopen for in-person instruction” provided the county remains in the red level for “at least two weeks” and provided that schools follow the guidelines established by the state Department of Public Health. State directives are accompanied by a growing scientific body to support the importance and safety (if done well) of starting to return to educational normality.
According to the CDC, there were 94 deaths from COVID across the country in the 0-17 age group from February 1 to September 19 (including two in California, according to the California Department of Public Health). During this same period in the United States, 317 0-17 year olds died of pneumonia and 123 of the flu. As a further point of comparison, 100 children die each year from bicycle accidents.
Now, of course, 0-17 year olds cannot be isolated from older teachers, administrators and school staff. This is of serious concern, especially for those over 65, where 74% of COVID deaths in California have been concentrated, with more than half of those in category 80 and over. Yet in countries where schools have reopened and appropriate precautions have been taken, transmission has been reduced to a minimum. As Science magazine reports: “Countries offering in-person schooling with basic mitigation measures (i.e. distancing, face masks worn in hallways but not classrooms, hand hygiene, ventilation and staying home with minimal symptoms) generally have near zero community transmission. ”
A reassuring fact is that Berkeley itself has been below the county as a whole on the two critical metrics the state uses to determine a county’s level / level of COVID risk (cases per day per 100,000 and test positivity rate).
As a former high school teacher in New York City, where I was a proud dues-paying member of Albert Shanker’s United Federation of Teachers; as a historian who writes and teaches, in part, on the history of education in the United States; as a taxpayer who voted for every tax hike and bond measure to support public education; and as a parent of two children who thrived in Berkeley public schools (at least until they were connected); I urge BUSD administrators, teachers and staff to come together and send students back to schools as soon as possible after the county completes its required two weeks at its new COVID risk level.
Do it in the interest of fairness for the most disadvantaged students of BUSD. Zoom inflicts a special fate on them for well-documented reasons – from the wrong side of the digital divide to the lack of financial means to keep pace with their better-off peers whose parents, naturally, get plenty of extras for them. educational steroids to compensate for learning they don’t get remotely.
Do it for the benefit of all BUSD students, especially the youngest and most needy, for whom distance learning is more distant than learning, as every BUSD teacher, parent, staff and administrator knows too well. good.
Do it for the sake of the parents who have demanded it, such as the 75% of BUSD parents who, in response to a district survey in August, requested some sort of blended distance / in-person learning to start the school year .
Do it for the sake of the countless older children of essential workers (why are teachers not essential ?!) whose Dark Zoom learning is made even darker as they also serve as tech support for their younger siblings.
Do it for the benefit of all curious children who are trying to figure out the priorities of the world around them. Why are they wondering if their parents can get their hair cut in a salon, but they still can’t go back to school?
Do it for the benefit of all members of the workforce whose livelihoods depend on a fully functioning economy, which will remain hampered until children return to school so parents can return to work.
Above all, do it for the future of public school. Nothing will do more to undermine long-term public support for public education than failing to deliver it in its proper framework when the state has said it is safe to do so – and in the face of the disproportionate number of schools private (compared to public schools). who led the charge in that direction.
The BUSD, of course, cannot resume operations as usual if / when the county clears its two weeks in the red level it has now been placed in. However, there is plenty of space between the status quo ante and the current all-in-all-time regime. I have no doubts that BUSD administrators, teachers and staff can – and have – used educational imagination to figure out how to fill this gap in a way that balances appropriate education with prudent public health, especially given the many months it took to prepare for the moment when the state finally gives the green light for the start of the school year.
This moment is almost upon us. Please enter BUSD administrators, teachers and staff. Finalize your back-to-school plans in stages. Smooth out any contractual differences that hinder their implementation. Make the necessary arrangements to protect students, teachers and staff who may be particularly at risk. And then pick up the kind of education that can only happen in brick and mortar environments.
Governor Newsom, please urge BUSD and the growing number of similarly located school districts across the state to heed your state’s call and advice. You took us to our shelters in place in March. Now take us back to school.
Start with the youngest notes and work your way up from there. Start with some sort of hybrid approach and build from there. Take all necessary public health precautions. But please, for the sake of Horace Mann and everyone who cares about public education, bring BUSD students, teachers and staff back to the BUSD schools they belong to.
Every day beyond what the state says it’s allowed to return is too late.