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Berkeley Unified Superintendent Recommends Distance Learning In 'Heartbreaking' Decision

BERKELEY (CBS SF) – The Superintendent for the Berkeley Unified School District is recommending the start of the upcoming school year to begin online, as rising COVID-19 cases in the Bay Area prompt other districts to do the same.

"As you may know, school districts across the state are making a similar decision to begin in Distance Learning, but as your Superintendent, this is a heartbreaking recommendation to make," Superintendent Brent Stephens said in a letter to the school community.

"I know that this will come as difficult news for many families and students, and particularly for parents and guardians of younger children, as distance learning places them in a very challenging predicament," Stephens went on to say. "I still see that a return to on-campus learning is possible; I just don't see that doing so on August 17th is feasible."

The superintendent cited local COVID-19 conditions as the reason for the delay. Berkeley's criteria for reopening included a 14-day decrease in hospitalizations and efficient testing and contact tracing. Stephens said the area is in the midst of a 14-day rise in hospitalizations. Delays in obtaining coronavirus tests and results also remain a concern.

Stephens said the distance learning plan would look "very different" than the one implemented when shelter-in-place orders went into effect earlier this year. The superintendent said there would be structured daily and weekly schedules for students and required attendance. Instruction over Zoom would be live and assignments would be graded and reviewed by teachers.

The timeline for younger students to return to in-person classes would also be different compared to those at the high school level. Stephens said elementary and middle school students would be in distance learning through at least October 9th. The district said they should be able to reassess a possible transition to on-campus teaching by September 15th.

Meanwhile, high school students would stay in distance learning "most likely" until the December break. "We will assess the feasibility of transitioning to campus learning sooner, at the quarter break, but recognize that the logistical issues for high school may compel us to wait until the semester break," Stephens said.

Additional details about distance learning in the fall would be provided at upcoming school board meetings on Wednesday and on July 29th, along with town hall meetings planned for late July and early August.

Stephen's recommendation for Berkeley Unified comes as school officials in neighboring Oakland and the nearby Western Contra Costa Unified School District also decided to begin the year with continued online learning. Other Bay Area districts going online to start the school year include Brentwood and Santa Clara.

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