Berkeley elementary schools return to classrooms five days a week

Berkeley Unified School District reopened all eleven of its elementary school campuses Monday morning. Unlike many other Bay Area public school districts, students will be going back to class five days a week.

Just before 9 a.m., dozens of parents and young students lined up outside Rosa Parks Elementary school to check-in for the start of the in-person school year, in the middle of Spring.

Transitional kindergarten through second grade reopens today in Berkeley. On April 12, there is a larger reopening as third through 12th grades return to school buildings.

"I'm very excited to go back to school," said Rosa Parks Elementary student Arlo Burns. "I was really missing all my friends. I'm glad I don't have to be on a computer so much."

Berkeley Unified is one of the first public school districts in Alameda County to bring back their elementary students for five-day-a-week, in-person instruction, with a daily schedule of 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. for some schools and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for others.

"Every teacher who I talked to had a smile beneath their mask, I could just tell it was there," said Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Brent Stephens.

Lunch and recess are allowed. "We're taking care that classes don't mix, so we can have stable grouping," Stephens said. "All of our principals have designated certain areas of the campus as play areas, each class is being asked to play by themselves, and we'll keep that process in place for the remainder of the year."

Albany Unified School District also brought back elementary students today for five-day-a-week instruction, but with fewer hours per day than BUSD.

Other school districts, like Alameda Unified, have elementary students returning for a hybrid model of just four hours per week in-person. Elementary students in the Piedmont Unified School district are in-person nine hours a week. Oakland Unified School District was supposed to return for part-time, in-person instruction this month, but those plans were delayed.

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For the past several months, BUSD had been planning to offer hybrid or part-time in-person learning. Then, a few weeks ago, the district had a break-through in its negotiations with its labor unions. Stephens announced on March 8, that there would be no hybrid, instead, students would return for nearly a full day of instruction, five days a week.

When asked by KTVU what was the catalyst for the surprise announcement, Stephens said, "For a lot of teachers, the logic was pretty evident, that it was just easier to forgo hybrid learning, which is double the work, and it made better sense for our community given what the community was saying they wanted for school."

83 percent of BUSD families chose in-person learning.

For the 17% who chose to stick with distance learning for the remainder of this academic year, the district is providing a full-time program. BUSD hired an additional 31 educators to make the distance learning program happen.

Middle and high school students in Berkeley will return to campus next month for hybrid or part-time learning. The District is expected to make an announcement with more details on that schedule by Monday evening.