Amid a rise in coronavirus cases and a change in public health orders, the Burbank Unified School District this week assured stakeholders that all schools will reopen full time for in-person instruction next month, but that it must follow Los Angeles County health guidelines in carrying out the process.
The district reiterated its commitment to reopening under the guidance of the county as a response to two parents who expressed concern over requiring students, especially young children, to wear masks all day.
Aviva Williams came before the board during a virtual meeting on Thursday and asked that the district tell county Department of Public Health officials that students’ wearing masks in the classroom — a means of preventing COVID-19 transmission — does not make for a good learning environment.
“Your voices would carry much more weight than mine,” she told the board. “You might even be so brave as to tell the Department of Public Health that you will not enforce the mask requirement in Burbank schools. You will let families choose for themselves whether or not to mask their children. The new school year starts in a month. It makes me sick to think about my 8-year-old and 5-year-old wearing unnecessary masks in classrooms all day long.”
Superintendent Matt Hill, who noted that he is vaccinated and has enjoyed the freedom to not wear a mask, told the concerned parents that he and other district leaders throughout the county have provided feedback to county officials on how health orders have impacted academic learning. However, he and every other superintendents must abide by the guidelines and orders given by the county, he said.
“At the end of the day, I am not the health expert and so whatever guidelines they produce after that feedback is what we will follow,” Hill said in his response. “Any guidelines that are out there, it is my responsibility to follow those, whether I agree with them or not. I will advocate where I think guidelines need to be changed and give that input, but at the end of the day, when guidelines are published, we will follow those.”
The board backed Hill’s comments and reminded stakeholders that health orders are temporary and having students in the classroom wearing masks is better than having them at home learning on a computer.
“We have worked for an entire year to keep not only our staff safe, but also our kids, and right now what guidance is coming out is a simple request: wear masks indoors,” said board member Steve Ferguson, referring to DPH’s recently announced requirement that starts Saturday night. “I want to get behind that as a leader, even though it’s complicated, even though I don’t agree with everything, but I have to. Why? Because I know those kids are served better in a classroom than at home.
“I know we can serve them better when we can take them out of home, when parents don’t have to split attention between work and teaching their kid and making sure their kid’s logged in. I want to get there, but we can’t do that if we backslide,” Ferguson added. “So we need every leader and every parent here to understand that it’s up to us that this one inconvenience can make sure your kid goes to school in the fall.”
BUSD SETS FUNDRAISING PRIORITIES
The district staff presented a list informing the board of its fundraising priorities for the 2021-22 school year.
Hill started off with ways to help fund the BUSD’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiative. The district hopes to raise $323,360 to purchase novels for students and school libraries and an additional $50,000 to give its teachers professional development that would give them training in avoiding unconscious bias.
The priority with the largest price tag is technology. At-promise elementary students were provided with Chromebooks to use at home for their academic needs and Hill said they need to replace those devices in the near future at a cost of $690,000.
“We’ve discussed at the board meetings that we have closed the digital divide,” Hill said. “We’ve used stimulus funding to be able to purchase Chromebooks for our students and hot spots, but we want to make sure that that digital divide remains closed.”
Ferguson said technology is most important for the district to address in fundraising after the BUSD relied on distance learning for more than a year.
“I think that we should prioritize that above all because I think that takes the longest amount of planning, it’s the largest number on the list and it’s most critical, in my opinion, to where we’re going in the long term as infrastructure for what we need to teach kids moving forward in.”
Other fundraising needs for the district are career technical education (about $20,000 per course that includes about 25-30 students), adding a therapist to meet increased demand for mental health support ($90,000), supporting the arts, outdoor science school ($220,000), math and English language arts intervention for elementary students ($80,000) and helping disadvantaged students pay for advanced placement exam fees ($40,000).