Judy Appel will not be running for re-election to the Berkeley Unified School Board . Photo, taken in 2018, by Frances Dinkelspiel

After eight years on the Berkeley Unified School District Board, President Judy Appel has decided to withdraw her bid for re-election to focus on healing from a traumatic car crash that happened in January 2019.

Appel had already filed her initial paperwork for the election, but said on Monday that she realized she needs time to plan a new life for herself in the aftermath of the crash, and it’s one of the reasons why she’s leaving the board. She and her wife, Alison Bernstein, were crossing Martin Luther King Jr. Way just after midnight on Jan. 4, 2019, a block from their South Berkeley home, when they were struck by a car, leaving them in critical condition.

Appel was able to return to her seat on the board eight months after the crash, and she said Bernstein is recovering well and working again despite medical complications. But this year has been a huge adjustment — especially during a pandemic.

“It’s just so weird, because everyone’s having a weird time right now,” said Appel, describing the compounding impact of COVID-19 coming after the crash. “We’re just kind of recovering, and getting back on track, and if this pandemic hadn’t happened, I would’ve found a job by now and I would’ve been started in whatever new path I’m gonna be on.”

Berkeley School Board President Judy Appel (right) and wife Alison Bernstein. Photo: Judy Appel/Facebook

The school board has also faced an especially intense year, grappling with $8 million in projected budget cuts, a drastic forced shift to online learning, and continued conversations over race and equity in the middle of a new civil rights movement.

Appel said she takes her position very seriously, and is proud to work with talented colleagues to take on all the issues, but that she doesn’t have the resources right now to handle both her recovery and the demanding work.

“When you have this serious of an accident, it really really changes your life,” Appel said. “We were really hurt, we almost died, and I think I’m going to have physical impacts from it for my whole life.”

Appel and Bernstein have both committed their lives to social justice — she said it was how they met, and built a life together — and Appel said she’s been so proud to work on the board to improve equity in Berkeley schools. She and Bernstein have two children who have graduated out of Berkeley schools, and Bernstein grew up in Berkeley. Bernstein does appeals work for people on death row, but she has cut back on some of that work while she heals.

“You’re going along your life on a certain path and we have a great life — and we had an even better life — and then this thing happens, coming home from a movie one night and you get run over by a car and everything just kind of halts, and shifts,” Appel said.

Appel is applying to jobs right now and charting out her next step while she serves out her term for the next six months. She said she would love a position in the education realm, one that would call on her experience in policy development and LGBTQ advocacy and family access issues. Appel was Executive Director of Our Family Coalition for 11 years and, more recently, Senior Program Officer at the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation.

Appel doesn’t think she would run for the school board again, but she did run for State Assembly in 2018, and said she may look toward another elected office in the future.

“It really has been an honor, and honestly a joy, to represent the people of Berkeley on the School Board.” — Judy Appel

Appel is one of the most experienced people on the board, and her departure, along with that of board member Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, who’s not running for re-election either, will leave new Supertintendent Brent Stephens with a relatively green team and two open spots for this year’s election. Longfellow community advocate Laura Babbitt and Berkeley PTA leader Ana Vasudeo are currently running for the seats. Appel said her announcement could open up the race for candidates who might not have wanted to run against an incumbent. Ty Alper, who has been a board member for six years, will take on the mantle as Board President.

“It really has been an honor, and honestly a joy, to represent the people of Berkeley on the School Board, helping trying to create this great learning experience for all our kids, or trying to — we’re not there yet,” she said. “I’ve learned a ton, I’ve met a ton of people, and I have confidence that whoever the city of Berkeley elects will maintain that commitment to having a really strong school district.”

Supriya Yelimeli

Supriya Yelimeli joined the Berkeleyside staff as a general assignment reporter in May 2020 after contributing reporting since 2018 as a freelance writer. Yelimeli grew up in Fremont and has written for...

Join the Conversation

62 Comments

  1. Considering Leyva-Cutler got caught letting someone use her address for enrollment and that was thrown into the closet with the rest of the skeletons this is not surprising at all.

  2. By including the changing of the school names Washington and Jefferson in their Black Lives Matter resolution, BUSD’s School Board has acknowledged that the Black Lives matter now, and that the Black Lives enslaved by these founding fathers mattered 250 years ago. This allows us to look at our past more honestly and understand how we got where we are today in terms of systemic institutionalized racism and how it continues to affect our students of color daily both in and outside of the school setting.
    By failing to ratify the 2005 democratically chosen name “Sequoia” for Jefferson School, but rather reopening a renaming process for that school site, the School Board has missed an opportunity to call out systemic institutionalized racism of the 2005 School Board. It does us less good to decry the racism in Minneapolis if we won’t acknowledge and correct the systemic racism within our own school district.
    Thank you, Judy Appel, for asking to have the VHS tape of the 2005 School Board meeting (where this egregious act of systemic racism was perpetrated) digitized so it can be viewed on youtube. There are 3 links which total 2 hours of viewing: “BUSD Board Jefferson Name Change Pubic Hearing 2005”, “BUSD Board Jefferson Name Change Public Comments”, and “BUSD Board Jefferson Name Change 2005”
    I hope that the community now charged with renaming “Jefferson” school will take the time to view these public meetings. I hope that in viewing, for themselves, the injury that was done to Black students, parents, teachers and their many allies, they will understand the importance of the bringing healing and respect to that community by honoring their courageous two year process and democratic vote and that they will name the school Sequoia…as should have been done in June 2005.

  3. Turns out this is not the Kumbaya feel good story she was hoping for.
    I love the truth!

  4. Do you think that just maybe the BUSD agenda isn’t working and they should try something different. The achievement gap is one of the worst in the state if not nation yet BUSD spends a disproportional amount of time and resources towards trying to “close the gap” when in reality they are just bringing the top down to meet the bottom. Regardless it’s not working nor has it ever, so why not try something different??? How about starting with holding students accountable for their actions and lack of work ethic? What is the saying? doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome is the sign of insanity…Well if the shoe fits…I guess they are wearing it!

  5. I had hopes too in the past with my interactions with him but he’s no better. Famous last words “It’s always a work in progress”, “I wish we had more available funding..”… “We’re sorry…” – how often have you read or heard him say that. He’s no better. Even acknowledged in a a board meeting (I believe it was with the BHS girls and the sexual harrassment topic) his own lack of imagination in working toward resolving so many issues at BHS. Don’t expect much change. He knows plenty! And he’s as equally part of the problem.

  6. How does that old saying go. . . ‘good riddance to bad rubbish’. I am sorry she was badly injured by a car AND I am glad she is leaving BUSD board. Ms. Appel never appeared, to me, to be serving the people of Berkeley, as she asserts in her comment posted here.

  7. If the remaining members wish to dumb down the curriculum, ignore academic excellence, and pursue the “equity agenda” then they should resign as well.

  8. Both her LinkedIn profile and her Berkeleyside campaign profile describe her main priority as addressing the academic achievement gap between African American and English language learning students and White students. But, the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis identifies Berkeley Unified has having the worst achievement gap of all the school districts in the US (Reardon 2017). Something must be horribly wrong to be the worst in the country. Maybe the district’s policies are somehow making the problem worse?

  9. Hopefully Ty Alper will now be free to act and govern as he said he would when he was campaigning the first time. I don’t blame him for being ineffective because I’m sure he had no idea how bad the chaos was on the inside.

  10. She told me this when she knocked on my door asking for my vote during the last election. She said the BUSD class environment didn’t work for her children, which I found very shocking and revealing at the same time. It was a classic case of do as I say not as I do…I literally was left shaking my head as she walked away.

  11. Inclusion gets distorted when your only focus is on the people you are trying to include but completely dismiss and belittle the group that you are trying to include someone to…You all have lost your way and are doing a disservice to the tax payers and their students.

  12. BUSD is in a state of disaster, There is still plenty of work to do is an understatement.

  13. Your endorsement says it all, nothing could prove the point more than maybe Felarca chiming in also endorsing Judy Appel. You all are a piece of work.

  14. Narrate as you wish Ms. Appel. When you say “our” you don’t me “our” – you mean “some”. And that has always been the issue.

  15. Ours is a political monoculture, hostile to the opposing views that might require us to do better. It has led us to pile up inefficient and ineffective institutions with no oversight. We do things because everyone agrees that we should do those things, not because we’ve done the important legwork to demonstrate to a loyal opposition that those things are the right thing to do. When seeking support, we are never required to commit to performance measures in case we ought to course correct… and so we never course correct.

  16. Appel is one of the most experienced people on the board
    Being there the longest does NOT make you the most experienced JS.

  17. “She and Bernstein have two children who have graduated out of Berkeley schools” Not true…one did home study and the other went to private schools…They were out of Berkeley schools when they graduated is more like it.

  18. When the first time Judy Appel ran for school board she stopped me at the gate outside of the Elementary school where I was picking up my two children, she proceeded to ask me for my vote and asked what my main concerns were as a BUSD parent, I told her illegal enrollment (this was fresh on my mind because we didn’t even get one of our 3 school choices, we got the 4th not even in our zone!) she then told me that she would not discuss that with me and dismissed my concerns as a non issue while becoming very rude to me. She knew she didn’t need my vote that year all you had to be was a warm body to get elected to the BUSD school board. She’s a real charmer, not going to miss her at the board meetings. Hopefully we get some new blood in her place, someone willing to listen to their boss, the tax payers! Transparency is mandatory for BUSD going forward.

  19. The completely bungled transition to online education starting in March? The lack of rigor in protecting BHS pupils form sexual assault and demanding accountability from administrators and school leadership? And all that despite her purported “experience”.

    Thank you. Spot on

  20. This is great news for those that want more of a focus on academic excellence in our schools.

  21. Working hard isn’t working smart. Or being effective. Alot of missteps you seem not to recognize.

  22. It would be wonderful if you also vacated your position at Willard, you also have done more than your share of damage to the children’s minds and to our police force.

  23. Thanks for your years of service and dedication to education, inclusion and this community. Your professionalism and competence have been a boon to those who live in Berkeley and truly want what is best for the students. May the time-off be healing for you. Get strong. Come back. We need you.

  24. BUSD has been equitable to ALL Berkeley students since the late 60’s, It is not the job of BUSD to educate kids from all over the Bay Area nor is the burden on the tax payers of Berkeley. Berkeley kids of color have more opportunities at BUSD than their counterparts so don’t try to make this a race thing. The BUSD School Board has lost their way and have been sidetracked for many years now.

  25. I agree. It’s completely lopsided. Berkelyside failed to ask some hard questions. Maybe because Natalie didn’t write this article.

  26. An earlier article described how a bunch of students are organizing to change what they describe as systemic racism at Berkeley High. Interesting how this systemic racism apparently went unnoticed by a leftist and activist school board.

  27. You are so right on. It’s so evident by the nature that she has to comment here and it’s still “I”, ‘I”, “I”. Judy Appel doesn’t know the meaning of being a leader or being humble.

  28. It’s too bad you and your cohorts forgot who you work for…I will help…it’s the tax payers of Berkeley and your job is to educate their children first and foremost and if there is space we can expand to bring in other students…Berkeley unified schools have been over crowded since the 70’s but that never stopped the agenda of BUSD at the expense of the kids who live in Berkeley. I am sorry you had unfortunate luck btw.

  29. You went south when you said devoted public servant, she wasn’t serving us rather serving her agenda.

  30. I have received overwhelming positive and kind responses from people throughout Berkeley about all that I have done to support our students and strengthen our schools. I have worked hard to further an equity “agenda” (I assume that is what folks here are referring to) and supporting the many amazing programs we have at BUSD for our kids. I am proud of what myself and the other folks on the Board and in BUSD (teachers, principals, other staff supporting our learners, and the administration) have been able to achieve in the past 8 years. There is still plenty of work to do going forward, and I look forward to witnessing it.

    Please feel free to email me at judyappel@berkeley.net if you want to share specifics with me of any kind. Peace to you all, Judy

  31. Yes, thank you. People don’t need to agree to get along. People don’t need to think alike to respect each other.

    Why do so many conflate being friendly with blindly following in line? Some of the greatest insights I’ve had came from arguing with friends who had completely contrary views. We still got along just fine. Still do in fact.

  32. How nice of Berkeleyside to assist JA with her job search by writing a resume for her and broadly advertising it too.

    Seriously, what a puff piece. How about focusing on what JA actually did, or rather what she not did? How about asking about her achievements? How about asking why it took her 18 months to figure out she could no longer function for the BUSD and why she felt it was OK to leave them hanging for such a long period? How about challenging her on all the things that happened under her watch? The completely bungled transition to online education starting in March? The lack of rigor in protecting BHS pupils form sexual assault and demanding accountability from administrators and school leadership? And all that despite her purported “experience”. So does that mean she’s just outright incompetent? Or has she just been incredibly unlucky? In absence of any real reporting, shall readers flip a coin on that one?

    Instead of posting home story style pictures of her with her wife for the umpteenth time, how about some actual critical journalism? Why is it that every time Berkelyside reports on JA the pink glasses go up? Did you really believe your readers wouldn’t notice? Or how about following up on why the city has done hardly anything at all to improve the lighting situation and pedestrian safety since JA’s unfortunate injury 18 months ago? So many missed opportunities to actually report. Shame really. Not at all what we’ve come to expect from this paper.

  33. It is a win/win. We get fresh BUSD leadership and Ms. Apple can focus on her recovery.

  34. She was only devoted to “The agenda” not devoted to the best interest of Berkeley kids…the job she was elected to do.

  35. Hopefully Appel’s departure will allow her to heal and the rest of us to heal from the damage she has done at BUSD. I will never forgive her for calling all of us parents racists who just wanted to talk about fraudulent enrollment in BUSD, she was so angry at us for exposing the Board’s agenda she knew she was exposed and was bright red in the face, she clawed her way out of the corner like an angry cat. BUSD board member’s ONLY responsibility is to the tax payers of Berkeley…Period! There will never be honest dialog about issues when the common response is to just dismiss the parents/ tax payers concerns. Remember BUSD you work for US!

  36. Best wishes Judy. Sometimes you just have to hunker down. Nobody gets through life undamaged, but you guys got hit hard. Time for more healing. Thanks for your community work.

  37. This is sad for Appel but great for the families of BUSD maybe we can get a board member elected who will focus on educating Berkeley kids and stop with the educate the whole bay area agenda. BUSD’s first and foremost priority is to the tax payers of Berkeley and their children…nothing else!

  38. Bro, you gave me a negative? Jesus, all I did was wish these poor maimed people well. Open your heart!

  39. I don’t know Ms. Appel, but I have read about her over the years, and clearly she is a devoted public servant.

    I wish her and her partner (great photo of them together, what happiness) a steady recovery.

  40. Sorry you’re not healing well, But I
    am optimistic we will get someone without an agenda and an open mind towards fixing busd problems.

  41. Sorry about the reasons she’s stepping down but this is a good thing in terms of the board. We need some intellectual diversify in all of our elected offices.