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Classroom Shuffle Outrages Parents

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday August 29, 2006

Parents of students attending the Extended Day Care (EDC) program at Washington Elementary School in Berkeley are furious that their children had to sit outside in the cold last week because of a mix-up over moving to a new space.  

The children spent the entire day outdoors while the EDC relocated to the kindergarten classroom across the street from the program site. Since the school year begins Wednesday, the children had no regular classes to attend during the day. 

According to a letter parents received from the Berkeley Unified School District on Aug. 22, the reason behind this sudden relocation was a decision made in August to allow Berkeley High School to occupy the portable classrooms that had been used by the EDC program. 

The letter further stated that beginning Aug. 29, Washington EDC would be operating out of Washington Elementary School and that the two EDC classes would be sharing classrooms with the elementary school students.  

“I am furious that my son had to sit outside from 7:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday,” said Tracy Matthews, whose son attends EDC. “It was freezing when I dropped him off in the morning on Thursday. Why did they have to sit outside during the move? Is it because these are kids from lower-income families that nobody cares where they sit?” 

Paula Robertson, another parent, echoed her thoughts. 

John Santoro, principal of the program, said that the children had been given alternate accommodation in the elementary classrooms at Washington School during the move. 

“They didn’t have to spend the day outside,” he said. “Principal Rita Kimball has been very supportive in helping us coordinate services during this move. However, I understand that the teachers hadn’t spoken to her on Wednesday and this resulted in the kids having to sit outside.”  

Monique Moss, expressed her displeasure at the whole arrangement, when she picked up her daughter Alliya from EDC on Friday evening. 

“I think the teachers had like a week’s notice to pack up stuff and put them in storage,” she said. “Mr. Neil Smith from BUSD told us that they had to do this at the last minute. In the end it’s the kids who suffer ... who have to sit outside in the cold.” 

Six-year-old Alliya described her whereabouts in school on Friday: “We go outside, then eat breakfast, go outside, then eat lunch, and then go outside again. We only came in to keep our stuff.” 

When asked about the move, teachers of the EDC program told the Planet that they had been asked by school authorities to make no comment about the situation to the media. 

BUSD spokesperson Mark Coplan said that the increase in the number of the students at Berkeley High was the principal reason for having to move some classes to the bungalows.  

“There are currently 3,200 students at Berkeley High and they are increasing constantly,” Coplan said. “The move mainly has to do with the need for space and expansion. I understand that the kids had to sit outside for a certain period of time last week but that was because of the whole relocation phase. They will be sharing space with the elementary classes for this school year but other than last week’s disruption there will be no further changes in the Washington EDC program.” 

Coplan added that it was rare for EDC programs to have dedicated space because of space issues in the schools they operate out of. 

“Most EDC programs share spaces with other classrooms,” he said. “The program at Washington was one of the few to have been allocated its own space. But now that space needs to be used by the high school students when classes start on Wednesday. There is nowhere else for the high school students to go.” 

To day-care parents, however, last week’s disruption continues to be a frustrating experience. Floriana Santos, whose husband suffered a heart attack last week, said that the EDC program at Washington was the only place she could send her daughter Zoe to during the crisis. 

“When I called on Monday and told them that I had to take my husband to the hospital and needed to drop my daughter off at EDC, they said that things were very chaotic and this was not a good time,” she said. “This program has really helped parents like me in a lot of ways. They help with tutoring the kids and in taking care of them. I am worried about what’s going to happen from Wednesday onwards. How are they going to fit in all the stuff from EDC into those two elementary classrooms? Will my daughter have to go without all the artwork and puzzles she loves working on every afternoon?” 

Santoro said that all the materials from the EDC classrooms were being put into storage and teachers would be bringing out materials relevant to the day’s activities once the EDC program began. 

“We hope that there will be no overlapping in schedules but if there is, we can always move the EDC kids to the cafeteria,” he said. 

The portable classrooms are being cleaned before school starts on Wednesday. 

“My teacher told me that they are painting the rooms, shampooing the carpets and vacuuming the floors so that they can get everything ready for the Berkeley High students before school starts,” said 9-year-old Zoe. “The toilets used to stink earlier, but they are cleaning them up now.”