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BUSD: Friday March 20 from Superintendent Stephens

Dear Berkeley Unified Community, <este mensaje estará disponible en español en nuestro sitio web al final del día>

It’s Friday now, and we’re one week into a difficult and uncomfortable new reality. I haven’t had a lot of time to personally process everything that is happening, but I continue to feel pretty stunned by this week’s events. I’m grateful that my family is OK, and sincerely hope that same for yours.

I recognize that there are many questions that feel unresolved right now, and I ask for your patience as we regroup and try to function in the face of school closures, shelter-in-place orders, and the frightening prospect of a large outbreak. There is almost no part of the district’s daily operations that have not been turned upside-down by this combination of events, and even things like where to deliver the mail and how to secure supplies have to be figured out. There are information deficits and communication bottlenecks everywhere, and I’m committed to taking them on as quickly as possible.

Distance Learning

I know there is a lot of anxiety and stress in families and among staff about how quickly we can shift to a full “distance learning” mode, and I wish I could flip a switch to instantly convert our vibrant school communities into some kind of online facsimile, but that just isn’t possible.

I anticipate that further work over this weekend will permit us to share with the Berkeley community a tentative sketch of a district-wide distance learning plan, and optimistically, that we will be positioned to begin this plan after Spring Break. Because of its sheer complexity, I see that this plan will evolve as we learn what works and what doesn’t.

We have also communicated with teachers about their own situations, and are absorbing important new facts. For example, through a survey, we now know that more than 40% of our educators are now in full-time caregiving arrangements because of the mass school closures. Through telephone wellness checks, and know that more than 30% of our most vulnerable families cannot access the internet. Taking a few days to assess the conditions of our staff and families will let us design our distance learning approach in a far more effective way.

We’re working to think through a long list of complicated questions, of which these are only a few:

How do we support our most vulnerable learners when we can’t be with them in person?

How will younger students participate in online learning experiences?

How will we grade, both for the marking period that is ending and the one that is coming up? Can courses and assignments and homework count for credit?

Will students graduate? (Yes, they will, but we need to think about grades and transcripts and college applications – things that are bigger than us.)

What about prom and high school graduation and all the closing events that mark the end of the school year and are so meaningful to our students?


I’m particularly distraught about the equity challenges we face in this effort. We already know that the families we serve weren’t on equal footing before this virus, and these inequities relate to technology access, food and income security, displacement from Berkeley, and health care, to name a few. I appreciate and value the ideas that are already surfacing after one week of school closure, and I know that some of these ideas will help Here is a link to many different kinds of resources that the Berkeley High team put together.

Donations and Volunteering

We remain focused on meeting our students most essential needs, and are grateful for the partnership of the non-profit Berkeley Public Schools Fund in much of this effort. The Schools Fund is working with BUSD to identify critical needs and direct services to students and families, including groceries, books and access to technology. Many of you have asked how to help stabilize families through this crisis. You can:

With the support of the Schools Fund, our Technology Department, and volunteers, we started distributing Chromebooks to BHS students yesterday. For now, we have to prioritize distribution to low-income students, homeless and foster youth. If your family is in need, you can send an email to, or leave a message at (510) 644-8931, or fill out a form at


Starting next week, we will be providing meal pick-up on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 11-1, with takeaway meals for multiple days. Here is the link to the meal pick-up schedule.

While there are many people in our District to thank for their continued work this week, I hope you’ll join me in thanking our Nutrition Services workers. They never missed a beat, and were out at our schools preparing and serving meals at six different distribution points on Monday morning and throughout the week.

This is for all of them:

Please find peace in your lives; next week will be another busy, confusing one, but we are going to regroup and shine together.


Brent Stephens


Berkeley Unified School District

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