Berkeley School Board President reflects on challenges of Covid – J.


Berkeley School Board President Ty Alper loved meeting parents and community members. After all, he and his wife grew up in Berkeley and raised a family there. But, he admitted, once the pandemic hit and schools closed, things got a little tricky.

It wasn’t the virus. It was vitriol.

“For the most part, people did not say to each other: ‘We love the school board! We really appreciate our officials! right now, ”he laughed. “Most people didn’t say that. Most people were upset. And that made going out a little less fun.

But Alper took it in stride. He told J. that as a parent himself he understands the stress and frustration parents have gone through with the closure of schools. He felt that part of his job as an elected official was to absorb that emotion.

“The only thing I could do [was] just, you know, helping to make the best decisions possible, given the circumstances, which presented our values, ”he said. “And to recognize that people really needed an outlet for their anger. It was a service: to be there.

It was March 12, 2020 when the Berkeley Unified School District announced it would close all of its schools, which serve nearly 10,000 students. Since that day, a year and a half ago, Alper and the school board have been in the driver’s seat as the city goes through the turmoil of distance education, a pivot to reopening and now the issue of a vaccine mandate.

“The last 18 months have gone on for four or five years,” Alper said.

Alper, 47, is one of the school board members supporting the requirement for children 12 and over to be vaccinated to be able to come to class, but he doesn’t think it should be a hard and fast rule. Instead, it supports an option for weekly testing, which Berkeley – and other Bay Area towns – currently require for school staff.

“We don’t want to kick kids out of school, we want to encourage them to get vaccinated, and so we’re trying to go with that middle ground where we create a mandate that I think will result in more kids. get vaccinated, ”he said.

A vote on the issue is expected on October 6, he said, to determine whether Berkeley joins Los Angeles, Culver City and Oakland in demanding vaccines somehow for school children. public.

Alper said he would prefer the advice to come from the state, just like he does for measles or chickenpox vaccines.

“The state is not doing it, which I think is sort of an abdication of responsibility, because state public health officials have kind of hinted that they thought it was a good idea, but they didn’t really mandate it, and they went to the local districts, ”he said.

We don’t want to kick children out of school, we want to encourage them to get vaccinated.

This puts districts in a position to make public health decisions they aren’t necessarily qualified for, he said, and creates a patchwork across the Bay Area as each city charts its own course.

“California law basically gives the state public health department the right to decide which vaccines are mandatory for local districts,” he said. “It’s not really something you’d think Districts should figure out on their own.”

But since they have to, they will. At a recent BUSD board meeting there were a few voices against the idea of ​​making vaccines mandatory and also strong voices in favor, but the atmosphere was civil.

Alper said that the fact that there had not been a heated debate on the issue was in fact a good thing; if vaccination was not the hottest problem for the school system, it meant that Covid-19 was not ravaging schools (there were 27 confirmed cases in September for all of BUSD’s 20 schools, which are full-time income in person by learning this fall).

“The majority of our eligible students are vaccinated, the vast majority of our eligible staff – that is, all – are vaccinated,” he said. “So I think it’s an important problem to solve, but I wouldn’t say it’s the most important.”

He said he had in mind to balance spending on Covid-19 security protocols, including contact tracing and testing, with other district priorities, such as ongoing issues of sexual harassment ( especially at Berkeley High School) and changing the way students are assigned to middle school. All of this would be made more difficult by the impending budget cuts.

Dealing with Covid had been costly, Alper said, even with additional funding from the state and the federal government.

“We had to spend all that money on contact tracing and testing – I mean hundreds of thousands of dollars for that! – which allowed us to keep everyone in school, or most of the children in school, even when there are positive Covid tests, ”he said. “But it’s so expensive, so we’re going to have to make some really tough strategic budget cuts to fund things.”

Alper and his wife, Tamar Todd, both went to public schools in Berkeley and then became lawyers working with death row clients (Todd is now working on drug policy reform). Alper currently teaches at the Death Penalty Clinic at Berkeley Law, where he works with law students on active death penalty cases. The couple have three children; the youngest recently had his bar mitzvah at the Kehilla community synagogue in Piedmont.

Alper, the nephew of Noah’s Bagels founder Noah Alper, said that when he looks back on his own school years in Berkeley public schools, the lack of a level playing field shocks him. This is also what motivates him.

“It was essentially a zero-sum game, so I had all the advantages over the children of color who didn’t have that kind of political or social capital in the district, and I think about it a lot,” a- he declared. “That’s another motivation, to kind of compensate for that.”

He first showed up to the school board in 2014 on a platform aimed at getting children who would otherwise be expelled to change their behavior instead. He was re-elected in 2018 and believes the playing field is still not level enough, but he has no plans to run again next year.

“I think eight years is a long time, and a fair amount of time,” he said.

Until then, however, Alper has another year to work for Berkeley schools to overcome the impact of the pandemic.

“We’re doing great things right now and the teachers are really excited to have the kids back in class and everything is going very well,” he said. “But we also won’t know the full impact of 18 months of distance learning for a long time.”


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