April 13, 2020
ON APRIL 9, 2020, BUSD HOSTED A VIRTUAL TOWN HALL ABOUT THE DISTRICT’S DISTANCE LEARNING PLAN.
THE QUESTIONS BELOW WERE THE MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED BY THE MEETING’S PARTICIPANTS.
Q1. Will BUSD return to real-time online video interactions? How can we ensure best practices for this return?
Effective April 13, teachers are able to return to using interactive online teaching using Google Meet.
Teachers are permitted to schedule video conferences with their students, but for now, only using Google Meet. Because BUSD already supports student user authentication in Google, this will ensure that the individual identity of each Google Meet participant has been authenticated.
Here is a notice for families about online class meetings, including guidelines and recommendations for best practices. We have also created tips for families on how to connect with Google Meet from Google Classroom and connecting to Google Meet from a link sent by the teacher.
Until further notice, the use of Zoom will not be permitted for student instruction at any level because of the current inability of the Zoom platform to authenticate user accounts for students under the age of 18.
Zoom continues to be permissible for BUSD educators and staff use when no student is involved. This includes staff and department meetings, other team meetings, and meetings with other non-BUSD adults.
Meanwhile we are in direct conversation with Zoom programmers about the importance of Zoom participant identity authentication. We have assurances from the company that they will work to resolve this issue. BUSD is also in close contact with a number of technology companies, including Google, and Clever. We expect to learn more from them next week, and we will communicate more with teachers and families if and when this issue with Zoom is resolved.
Google Meet currently lacks several of the features in Zoom that educators have expressed that they prefer. However, in the balance between student safety and technical features, the safer of these two technologies is clearly Google Meet.
Teachers are given this guidance about hosting video conferencing sessions with students:
- Smaller groups of students are better, especially as teachers are getting familiar with video conferencing technology. At BHS, no group should exceed a standard class size.
- At BHS, teachers should host office hours in keeping with the school’s schedule for office hours, which is organized right now by subject area.
Please Note: While this directive to use Google Meet went into effect on Monday, April 13, some teachers may require time to learn Google Meet and resume online interaction with students. An online webinar on Monday morning will provide support for teachers to transition to this platform. We hope you will be patient as teachers learn a new platform.
Q2. Why did it take BUSD a while to transition to Distance Learning? My university / private school / relative’s district did it faster.
It’s true that colleges and universities (many of which already have online components to their format), and many independent schools were able to make the conversion to distance learning relatively quickly. In general, public school districts have been slower than private schools to go online, as public schools must meet a host of state and federal requirements, and address a much wider variation in student needs and resources. Public districts also have an obligation to support our English Learners and students with IEP’s and other special needs.
Many of our students did not have internet access or a device. Many of them are dealing with food and housing insecurity. Our first focus was getting essential resources pulled together so that our students could rejoin their classrooms together as soon as possible, including distributing over 2,000 Chromebooks and assisting families with internet access.
BUSD began providing Home Learning Resources on March 16, the first day of school closures. At the time, the school closure was anticipated to last two weeks, followed by Spring Break. Later that week, as it became clear that a lengthier school closure was likely, plans shifted toward developing a long-term distance learning plan, even though essential guidance from state and federal requirements and support was yet to be available. The BUSD Distance Learning Plan was developed over the next week and presented to the School Board on March 26, to be implemented on April 6, the Monday immediately after the following March 30 week of Spring Break.
Q3. How is BUSD sharing best practices with other districts, and learning from the decisions made in other communities?
Some public school districts made the move to online learning before BUSD, and are grappling with many of the same issues that we are encountering. Some districts have yet to fully launch their distance learning programs, including San Francisco and San Diego.
BUSD maintains close contact with sister districts in the County, the Bay Area, and across the State and the U.S. through a number of district and departmental networks, all of which are eager to learn and share resources and best practices as we all confront many of the same challenges.
Q4. There seems to be variation in what teachers are doing right now. What is the requirement for teacher distance learning?
We are in a period of great adjustment and learning, and this is true for our teachers as well. The BUSD Distance Learning Plan represents the expectation for all educators in the district. It is meant to provide a baseline of learning experiences for all students. Our BUSD educators are also encouraged to be creative in their support of student learning, and we do expect differences as there would be in our real world classrooms. Some teachers were ready to go right out of the gate, due to their own familiarity with various online platforms such as Google Meet, YouTube, Zoom, Clever, etc. Others need more professional development to adapt their curriculum, content and practice to a virtual classroom.
If you have a concern about your child’s distance learning experience, please reach out to your teacher directly, or to your school’s principal.
Q5. What if students fall behind during the COVID-19 school closure period?
Distance learning is not a complete substitute for the learning experiences that take place at school. Like the regular school year, Special Education teachers, intervention teachers, counselors are all available to provide supplemental support to students on their caseloads.
Q6. Will summer school be an option, and/or an extended school year?
We are not certain right now that on-campus summer school will be permitted by the Alameda County and City of Berkeley Departments of Public Health. We are currently planning summer school options for both in-person and distance learning scenarios.
We do not believe that BUSD will be able to extend the school year, or provide additional support at the end of the summer, unless the state of California makes available additional funding for this supplemental support.
Q7. How should I enroll my child for next year, and how should I complete the school registration process?
Enrollment and registration processes will both move online, since it is not possible to go to the Admissions Office or to the assigned school during the Shelter-in-Place orders.
The BUSD Admissions processes, forms and webpages are being updated and will be ready by April 15. While the website is being updated, you can email [email protected] with questions. Bilingual services are available in Spanish.
Q8. What is happening with grading, and will Grade Point Averages be affected?
Grading for all students in Grades 6-12 will shift from letter grades to a “Pass/No Pass” system for the second semester of this school year. Teachers will give assignments, collect these assignments, and offer feedback, and at their discretion may continue to give points for assignments and utilize other features of their regular grading system. However, report card marks will only reflect that a student has either passed or not passed the class for the semester.
Teachers may continue to give exams and other assessments, but are advised to account for the inequitable learning conditions that the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated.
Grade Point Average (GPA) calculations will not be negatively affected by the use of Pass/No Pass grades.
Q9. What is BUSD going to do about my student’s IEP? What about 504 Plans?
IEP’s: during the time our schools remain closed due to COVID-19 and in-person services are impossible, the District is unable to provide the exact services written in an IEP. BUSD has developed a contingency plan for your student to receive special education and related services, to the extent that is possible and feasible under the directives of the Alameda Department of Public Health. Depending on the student’s IEP, the District will provide the following supports and activities to students with disabilities: Access to supports for parents and students through electronic means such as online conferences, Google Classroom, or telephone calls; packets of materials; supports and activities accessed online to enable the maintenance of educational skills. Letters are being sent to families with further details this week.
In addition, the District will provide the following comparable related services to students with disabilities: Related Services (speech therapy, occupational therapy, adaptive physical education) through electronic means and assigned activities to maintain skills; Counseling via an approved electronic platform.
504: To the extent possible, accommodations in an individual student’s Section 504 plan will remain unchanged during the distance learning. In preschool, TK, elementary, BTA( Berkeley Technology Academy) and BIS (Berkeley Independence High School), the principal is the primary point of contact for parents and guardians of students with section 504 plans. At the secondary level, the principal’s designee is the academic counselor (high schools) and grade-level counselor (middle schools). BUSD is not able to conduct valid evaluations for new Section 504 plans at this time. Annual renewal of Section 504 plans will resume once school is back in session. For further information, please see this link.
If you have any questions, please contact the principal or designee. If you are not able to resolve your concerns at your child’s school, or if you have additional questions, the BUSD Section 504 Coordinator is James Wogan, LCSW, Manager, Student Services, 510.7825.5041 or [email protected].
Q10. What support is available for English Learners (ELD)? What about our TWI programs?
Support for English Language Learners will continue during the school closure period. As BUSD gets better at creating distance learning resources for teachers (these are called weekly Distance Learning Activity Sets), we will increasingly incorporate resources for English Learner students and families. In addition, ELD teachers at all BUSD schools are asked to establish contact with their ELD classes and offer English Learning experiences (assignments, resources, and online interaction) that will support students’ access to their teachers’ assignments.
Two Way Immersion (TWI) teachers also receive the same Activity Sets each week from the district’s Distance Learning Teacher Leaders. These Activity Sets include lessons, suggestions about online learning experiences, daily schedules, and other resources for families. Additional Spanish language development support for TWI students is currently in the planning stage.
Q11. What will happen to graduation and commencement events at the end of the year?
Currently, the County Superintendents of Instruction for all six Bay Area counties have announced that school facilities will remain closed until the end of the school year. This announcement will almost certainly prevent graduation ceremonies from taking place on site. We’re talking to Principals about alternative celebrations for elementary and middle school commencement celebrations.
We are working now to create an alternative to high school graduation, and are considering the feasibility and value of an online ceremony, as well as postponing the ceremony until a later date. This second option is complicated by the uncertain endtime of the Shelter-in-Place order. Berkeley High School is currently surveying students about possible options, and we plan to engage parents soon to develop additional ideas.
Q12. What is the update on school construction – especially with the West Campus renovation for Oxford and the roofing project at Rosa Parks?
Most school construction projects will continue during the current Shelter-in-Place orders, as they have been identified as essential to student safety. This includes construction at the West Campus school, which is intended as the new temporary home for Oxford Elementary School at the start of the 2020-2021 school year. We will update the community if the Shelter-in-Place orders related to school construction change and cause delays.
Q13. How will we decide when to reopen schools – and what if the school facilities closures extend into the fall of 2020?
The County Superintendents of Instruction for all six Bay Area counties, acting in consultation with County Health Officers, have announced that school facilities will remain closed until the end of the school year. The BUSD Board of Education is expected to formally affirm this decision at its meeting on April 15. In the event that County Health Officers adjust their guidance, BUSD will revisit the decision to keep our facilities closed.
At this point, we don’t know what to project about the summer and fall, but obviously will be looking at contingency plans for delayed reopenings, or for the possibility of other scenarios such as partial reopenings, or opening followed by another closure.
Q14. What is the District doing to work with Public Health to make decisions?
Throughout the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak, BUSD has worked in close contact with Alameda County Public Health Department and City of Berkeley Health. In early March, we were given advice regarding handwashing and facilities cleaning, and about reducing large group gatherings and field trips. On March 11th, BUSD and City of Berkeley staff co-presented an update about current recommendations to the BUSD Board of Education. On the evening of March 12, with concerns from parents and staff rising about the possibility of community spread within the close contact of school environments, and the unavailability of testing for early detection, BUSD made the decision to close high school effective March 13 and K-8 schools on March 16. As it turned out, that closure coincided with the County Health Officers’ Shelter-in-Place issued the afternoon of March 16.
The County Offices of Education, and County Health Officers and City of Berkeley Health Officers have continued to collaborate through the Health Officers’ extension of the Shelter in Place to May 1, and the Bay Area County Offices of Education’s recommendation of extended school facilities closure through the remainder of the school year.
School districts have some latitude for decision-making where County Offices of Education are concerned, however Health Officer and State government orders are mandates, and should Shelter-in-Place be extended by health or state officials, that order will have to be followed.
Superintendent Stephens will bring a recommendation to the BUSD Board to follow the County Office of Education guidance at this point, recognizing that the extended closure carries with it significant implications for families who do not have childcare, for the academic progress and emotional well-being of our students. He will ask the Board to remain open to the possibility of a brief reopening in June if the situation warrants it.
Q15. Is emergency childcare support available from BUSD?
BUSD is in contact with City and County officials who are coordinating the provision of child care for essential workers. BUSD has offered to open our facilities for emergency childcare, but according to County officials this has not been necessary so far.
Parents and caregivers who are essential workers and are in need of emergency child care should review this flyer and contact their local Resource and Referral agency (for Berkeley and surrounding communities the agency is Bananas) after completing this referral form.
Q16. What can BUSD parents do to help with the needs of other families, or the teacher’s classroom, or the district operations?
There are a variety of ways to support your school’s distance learning plans, or to help with the community’s COVID-19 efforts. Please reach out to your child’s teacher with your offer of help for your child’s class. You can also contact the Berkeley Public Schools Fund if you would like to volunteer time or make a donation to support vulnerable BUSD families. You can learn more about how to help at the BPSF School Closures Assistance Campaign page.
This press release was produced by Berkeley Public Schools. The views expressed here are the author’s own.
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