On Sunday, KQED published a story about the head of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers sending his toddler to a private preschool in person while advocating that Berkeley public schools should only reopen to in-person learning when teachers are vaccinated, among other criteria.
The story was sparked by a group of unnamed activist parents who filmed BFT’s head taking their toddler to school and posted the video on Twitter. The group released a statement online saying, “The only thing that keeps our schools closed is cowardice – and union donations to politicians,” and it pledged to “clear” the “responsible” men.
The story was picked up by Fox News, the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Post and other local and national media. Some of the coverage suggested that the BFT leader was a ‘COVID hypocrite’ and this prompted vitriolic responses, including a voicemail message to Berkeleyside in which the caller wished the BFT leader harm.
Berkeleyside has known this information for about a month. Many readers have contacted us to ask why we haven’t published an article. Some have accused us of not fulfilling our duty. We chose not to talk about it, however, as we determined it wasn’t a story. We still don’t think so.
Berkeley does not have a universal preschool: The Berkeley Unified School District operates a limited, state-funded preschool program primarily for low-income families. There are only 175 students enrolled, according to Trish McDermott, BUSD’s public information officer.
“This is a program that primarily serves low-income families and we are required to enroll families based on need (income, guardian looking for work, guardian in school, foster child, homeless, etc. .), ”McDermott said in an email. “If we have places after we have enrolled all eligible families in our subsidized program, then we enroll families at full price. “
In addition, to attend a BUSD-run and state-funded nursery school, a child must be at least 2 years and 9 months old. The union president’s child is too young to qualify for the BUSD preschool program.
No specific treatment: Unlike other news outlets, Berkeleyside did not view this situation as the union president seeking special treatment for his child while denying education to other children. We haven’t seen hypocrisy here.
A private matter: Families make many personal decisions about their children’s education and in this case Berkeleyside felt it was just that and not in the public interest to report it.
Not an elected official: The head of the BFT is not an elected official. He is chosen by his peers to lead the teachers’ union. Yes, he has influence and plays a big role in setting the conditions under which teachers will agree to return to class. But he is not a public official accountable to the general residents of Berkeley.
BUSD and BFT agreed to return to more in-person instructions from the end of March until mid-April.
While the district and teachers’ union were at times distanced from each other during negotiations to reopen schools and increase the amount of in-person learning, BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens went out of his way to emphasize the importance of civility in the talks.
The liberated neighborhood a statement on the matter, Monday, in which Superintendent Stephens wrote that the video posted by parents “invades the privacy of a family in our school community and targets one of our educators.” He concludes: “Looking at what lies ahead, in the last few weeks before the reopening, there is no point in treating members of our community, including our teachers – and the teacher who represents them as president of their union – like enemies. We compromise our collective well-being if we don’t respect each other and treat each other with compassion. “
BUSD Parents for Open Schools, a group that is pushing to reopen Berkeley schools as quickly as possible, has denounced the filming and distribution of the video. “We do not tolerate tactics that invade privacy and turn a public discourse on public education into a debate on personal choices,” the group’s statement said.
Ty Alper, president of the Berkeley school board, also expressed his dismay on Twitter over the parents’ decision to target the BFT chief and the media coverage that followed, writing: “I’m worried now about the unraveling of our common values of respect and decency. “
– Ty Alper (@tyschoolboard) March 1, 2021
Berkeleyside’s small editorial team makes decisions every day on what to cover based on our bandwidth and editorial judgment. These decisions are, of course, subjective, and some readers will disagree with us on some of the calls we make, which is good. And we are fallible, but we aim to be as transparent as possible about our reasoning
We also believe that sometimes it’s also important to know when not publish as when to publish.
(Featured Image: Gautam Arora / Unsplash)