February 10 2021


Kerry --

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School Reopening Update

As a parent to two young children in Berkeley public school, I want to see students return to in-person learning as soon as possible. I know that our children’s health is suffering during this pandemic; emergency room data over the past year has shown that ER visits for children’s mental health needs increase. I know this firsthand. I’m in regular contact with school board members and am also convening a meeting next week with key city, BUSD staff, and various PTA heads to discuss this dire situation.

As a former public school teacher, I also understand that our educators want to be vaccinated. I have been advocating strenuously for teacher vaccination prioritization in the new 1b tiers, if a return to the classroom hinges on this issue. Since Berkeley is its own health jurisdiction, I feel if any place can do this, Berkeley can.

January 2021 state public health guidance states that schools that have not yet reopened can open again for in person instruction in the Purple Tier for grades TK-6 when adjusted case rates are below 25 cases/100,000 population per day for at least 5 consecutive days. As of Feb. 8th, Alameda County has an adjusted case rate of 23.1 cases/100,000 per day.

Consequently, our public health official and City of Berkeley COVID-19 team have determined that TK-6 schools are able to open safely as of this week.

Once Alameda County has been in the Red Tier for several days, grades 7-12 will be able to open. Grade levels that cannot currently open under the state schools guidance continue to be allowed to provide in person services and supports under the cohort guidance.

Berkeley’s public health officer’s and my position is that when schools adhere to public health guidelines and carefully implement and layer key mitigation strategies (i.e., face coverings, use of stable groups, physical distancing, etc.), in-person instruction can be offered safely and successfully. The most recent health order aligns the City of Berkeley with the current state schools guidance that details this approach.

City of Berkeley staff have worked closely with BUSD and the private school community since March 2020 to support safe school reopening through ongoing individualized technical assistance to schools (along with child care and youth providers) and resources.

In response to the latest guidance, the City of Berkeley’s schools team is:

issuing clarifying information to schools and responding to many questions;
putting in place a Reopening Plan review team to evaluate schools’ Covid Safety Plans (CSPs) and reopening plans;
developing criteria for evaluating CSP’s; and
establishing process flows and evaluation and communication tools to enable the City to meet the seven-day turnaround requirement for feedback on CSPs.
Nevertheless, the timeline for reopening BUSD schools is still unknown. Other factors, as detailed in the school readiness dashboard here, must still be settled within the school district and teacher negotiations in accordance with state law. Currently, it is the position of the statewide unions that it is not safe to reopen elementary schools until we are in the “red tier” of community spread, and there is an opportunity for educators to be vaccinated while the school district’s position is that it is safe for teachers to return to the classroom. I want to see the school district and union come to an agreement as soon as possible.

I want to state unequivocally that I believe students need school for socioemotional and academic growth. I also understand that teachers are really concerned for their health. I promise you I am working hard on these issues and having conversations daily about how I can help in my role as an elected official for the city of Berkeley.

Sincerely,

Lori Droste
Berkeley Vice Mayor

http://www.loridroste.com/

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