The first day back to school for BUSD Oxford elementary school after over a year of lockdown resulting from the COVID 19 pandemic, March 29, 2021 Photo: Pete Rosos
Second-graders at Oxford Elementary attend class in person after over a year of remote learning during the pandemic. Credit: Pete Rosos

Berkeley Unified School District released the final count for students enrolled in distance and in-person instruction last week.

The majority of students attended school at the elementary schools (80%) and hybrid learning at the middle schools (72%). Just under half of high school students (46%) were enrolled in hybrid learning.

Students in grades kindergarten through second grade went back to in-person classes March 29, with third, fourth, and fifth graders joining them April 12. Elementary students attended school five days per week. Middle and high school students had a hybrid option with a few hours of in-person instruction in the afternoons each week, beginning on April 12 for middle schools and April 26 for high school students.

The hybrid option was less popular among high school students, some of whom told Berkeleyside that a few hours a week was "not worth it" to attend in person. Some parents complained that they could not provide transportation for students to attend class just in the afternoon.

The majority of students, regardless of race or family income, attended school in person to some extent this spring. White students were the most likely to attend school in person. District-wide, Black students were the least likely to return in person, followed by Latino, Asian and multiracial students.

The district does not have survey data about the reasons that families selected distance learning.

Throughout the spring, Berkeleyside spoke with dozens of families about their reasons for enrolling in remote learning, which ranged from general caution to medical conditions to a lack of trust in the district to keep their students safe.

Elementary in-person enrollment varied somewhat by school site, with 87% of students attending school in person at Ruth Acty and 74% at Sylvia Mendez, which has a dual-language immersion program that draws a significant number of English learners. Longfellow Middle School has the lowest enrollment in hybrid learning among the middle schools, with 60% of students returning to campus compared with 75% of students at King and Willard.

In-person enrollment by school site

Hover over the school circles for details on in-person enrollment.

The number of BUSD students who would enroll in person became the subject of controversy throughout the spring. Many parents pushing for schools to reopen argued that remote learning left the district's most vulnerable students behind, while others claimed that the families of some of those students did not want to return in person and that the push for reopening represented the narrow interests of mostly privileged families.

Throughout the spring, the district repeatedly released partial data on student enrollment in communications to families and during school board meetings. Some families became skeptical of district data that did not include the number of families who had not yet responded to the enrollment forms and accused the district of presenting misleading information.

After the school reopening dates passed, Berkeleyside repeatedly asked the district to share final student enrollment information. A Public Records Act request that asked for enrollment data broken down by school site as well as demographics was fulfilled by the district on June 3.

The district has not yet determined what next year's distance learning option will look like. At a May 19 school board meeting, Superintendent Brent Stephens said the district is waiting for more guidance from the state before finalizing its distance learning option, which could range from a model akin to Berkeley Independent Study, which offers limited live instruction, or a model similar to this year's distance learning offerings.

Of the 205 distance learning elementary families who responded to a district survey, 24 (11%) said they would choose remote learning in the fall for medical reasons, while 22 (10%) said they would choose remote learning for personal reasons, according to data shared at the board meeting.

Avatar photo

Ally Markovich, who covers the school beat for Berkeleyside, is a former high school English teacher. Her work has appeared in The Oaklandside, The New York Times, Huffington Post and Washington Post,...