Berkeley schools to open for in-person learning; parents must decide whether to send kids back by Thursday

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- It's back to school in Berkeley, as the school district announces the options for in-person or distance learning -- and parents will need to make a decision fast.

Parents of elementary students in Berkeley have just a couple days to decide if they want to send their kids back to in-person learning.

The district says Berkeley's vaccination program is helping make a full, five-day, in-person school week possible.

Parents will choose either five days on campus or distance learning for the rest of the school year.

TK through second grade students will go back in about three weeks, on March 29. Students in third through fifth grades will return in about a month, on April 12.

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Parents and students will need to make their choice by Thursday at noon.

Some Berkeley parents are celebrating now that the school district has announced a plan to bring elementary school kids back into the classroom in three weeks.

"I wanted go look for fireworks and bring the drums into the street! We are really excited at my house," Sarah Bowles said Tuesday morning. Her son, a second-grader, will get to return to the classroom March 29.

But the plan does not address bringing back middle school or high school students.

That left Bowles' daughter asking, "What about me?"

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"Now that my second-grader can go back, we are really happy for him, we just need to get my eighth-grader back, too," she said.

Berkeley administrators announced the plan Monday night. It brings TK through 2nd grade back in school in three weeks, five days a week, third through fifth in five weeks on April 12.

Parents with older kids hope this won't mean that the parents with young children move on.

"Middle and high schools are still waiting, and as a parent who has been pushing for reopening, I feel like our biggest advocacy group has been peeled away. The middle school and high school parents are holding on like don't forget us," said parent Deborah Spaulding Graham.

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"The older kids really need to see their friends. Developmentally, they need socialization even more than the younger kids. It is such a critical time. Older kids need to be with their friends and separate from their parents, it's just a healthy process and they do that best in school," Bowles said.

Lei Levi of BUSD Parents says the group will continue to advocate for kids of all ages.

"We're really hoping we can start addressing the middle and high school parents and students that have really been suffering through this as well," Levi said.

Levi, who has a first-grader, said she isn't letting herself celebrate too much.

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"We're really happy, but I think as a group we are also realistic. We have been given dates and hope before and we have been through the trauma of dates past," she said.

Bowles suggests that administrators lean on the parent community for help in figuring out a way to get the older grades open.

"I know every parent is willing to step up, to help figure out how to safely get back in school," Levi said. "We are hoping for more creative and flexible ideas whether it is the use of outdoor classroom space or different schedules. Anything."

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A spokesperson for the school district said administrators were in back to back meetings Tuesday planning for reopening and were not available to answer questions.

The president of the teacher's union did not respond to our request for comment.

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