Masks back on at Berkeley Unified

More than two months after state officials lifted an indoor mask mandate for public school students, Berkeley Unified leaders will require students to mask up again for the last two weeks of the academic year amid a surge of COVID cases.

In a memo to parents, Superintendent Brent Stephens said all students, staff and people at district campuses and facilities must begin wearing masks on Monday. The mandate includes people attending indoor school events and indoor graduations, even those taking place off campus.

The move follows a meeting between the district’s COVID response team and Berkeley public health partners “to discuss the COVID-19 surge we are now experiencing,” the letter reads. Stephens said Berkeley Health Officer Lisa Hernandez recommended the mask reinstatement “to protect students and staff from further exposure and transmission, to ensure the completion of the in person school year and associated ceremonies.”

“As we are not a health agency, we must rely on these experts to guide us,” Stephens wrote. He indicated the district is seeing an increase in classroom COVID clusters, which could suggest the virus is spreading.

“Our collective goal in the final weeks of school is to ensure the last two weeks and accompanying celebrations can be attended by as many of our students and families as possible,” the memo reads. “We have kept our schools open through surges this year due largely to community-wide adherence to our mitigation strategies.”

The district is also taking other precautions to mitigate the spread of the virus at a time when graduations, final classes, celebrations and senior trips are in full swing.

It is resuming close contact notifications, asking staff to move back to Zoom meetings and outdoor events when possible and recommending all students and staff experiencing “even one COVID-19 symptom” to stay home and test for the virus.

The district is experiencing a continued shortage of substitute teachers and growing number of staff absences, leaving administrators “working in our classrooms as teachers while teachers are forgoing their planning periods to fill in for colleagues who are ill,” Stephens wrote.

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