Doris Schioberg 0

Make staying in BUSD possible for elementary school kids

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An open letter to Superintendent Stephens of BUSD from parents of elementary aged children:

We received your message regarding the BUSD plans for this fall and they trouble us a lot for several reasons. Our children are at BUSD Elementary schools, which we truly love and with teachers we admire. The distant learning in spring was done amazingly by our teachers. And yet, many of our kids hated it. Many Zoom meetings came with struggles, with crying and screaming children, destroying their love for school and learning.

Now, we hear from you:

"There will be structured daily and weekly schedules for students, required attendance, daily live instruction on Zoom, engaging remote learning content, assignments that are graded and reviewed by teachers, and consistent communication with families."

We understand that your intention is to make families feel safe and engaged with the ongoing online learning. We understand that the district and teachers have worked hard to improve the online learning from the emergency curriculum that was used in the Spring. We also understand that BUSD is bound to certain regulations and reporting requirements with the State of California, which are often tied directly to funding.

But here is what the new plan actually means for many of us parents of children 5-10 years old:

  • Zoom is not age appropriate for young kids. Children of that age need to learn with all their senses. Very few can handle this type of screen time.
  • Children and families are still experiencing trauma, the increased focus on academic achievement and strict attendance could make it worse.
  • It is extremely difficult for working parents to facilitate this. Many families are already struggling to make ends meet and to afford to stay in Berkeley. Childcare is mostly on parents now with some of them having to quit their jobs to facilitate their kids’ education. Now we would also have to worry about being compliant to the new rules.

This is not just about childcare. This is about a looming mental health crisis in kids and spoiling the love for learning for kids that should still be excited about the world. It’s our duty to protect our kids' health not only physically but also mentally.

Many of the families we have spoken with are considering moving their children to private schools. Others are looking into home-schooling options hiring private tutors. Left behind will be the kids whose parents either don't have the time or the money to do either. Left behind will be a district that loses even more - financially and community - if parents start walking away. Inequity - a topic at the core of BUSD - will inevitably grow. Schools will not only lose money for each student leaving the system. They will most likely also lose many of their donors. The great efforts towards diversity and equity in our public schools are at stake.

While we fully understand the reasons BUSD cannot immediately return to in-person school, we implore you to consider an age appropriate approach to virtual learning. Start making separate plans for different age groups! The current plan is a one-size-fits-none plan with no scientific considerations, neither in regards to child development nor in what we already know about COVID-19.

What we ask from you and BUSD:

  • More clarity in the rules and expectations for parents of Elementary school children.
  • Remove any obligations that could impact the children’s future in the system and/or bring the parents into the space of truancy. Zoom calls and assignments have to be optional!
  • Allow parents to choose their own home learning resources as fits the family's and child's needs.
  • Permit an opt-out from distance learning while staying enrolled in our public school.
  • Create grade-level specific plans that are tailored to the best teaching and learning practices for the age group.
  • Consider in-person outdoor learning for children pre-K to 5th grade, once the county meets the requirements to do so.

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