The Burbank Unified School District is striving to make headway in its diversity, equity and inclusion goals by providing professional development aimed at helping its employees better tackle sensitive subjects in the classroom.
Meeting in the district offices with members of the public for the first time in 17 months, the Board of Education on Thursday unanimously approved an agreement with the education nonprofit group Facing History and Ourselves. The BUSD will pay no more than $120,000 for training and resources — in the areas of history, social studies and language arts — that will begin next week and be provided four additional times throughout the school year.
The organization’s goal is to “use lessons of history to challenge teachers and their students to stand up to bigotry and hate,” but some concerned stakeholders felt it would do the opposite and further divide students and teachers by emphasizing racism. One worried that the district was implementing critical race theory — an academic movement that examines the dynamics of how race and racism are expressed throughout institutions, especially law — into its curriculum and blurring a line between educator and activist.
“In the proposal of this Facing History document, it uses words like ‘dominant narrative’ and ‘whiteness,’ and it’s very upsetting to hear these words thrown around in some type of program that our educators are going to have to go through and then take that into the classroom,” one person told the board. “ … I don’t think that Burbank and anybody in our school system has any type of racist opinions toward anybody else. I don’t think that spending up to $120,000 on this program is a good use of funds.”
Superintendent Matt Hill assured parents that the district’s DEI initiative is not CRT in disguise and that rather than divide, it encourages all people to bring their perspectives to the table for a civil discussion.
“When we talk about history, we really do need to look at a lot of perspectives,” he said. “The history that I grew up in, a lot of us grew up in, was very centered on the Founding Fathers, but it wasn’t thinking about all perspectives in that narrative.
“White supremacy culture, this country was founded on that. It was founded on slavery. It did not treat … Black people as humans. It created policies that benefited white men. It’s evolved over time, but we need to talk about that and understand how this country got founded. Why was that in place? And let’s make sure that none of those remnants are in our society anymore.”
Board member Emily Weisberg, who teaches history to 7th- and 8th-graders, echoed Hill and added that working with Facing History and the district’s DEI efforts “isn’t about making white students or white teachers feel bad.”
“It’s about celebrating all of the uniqueness and making sure it exists in our curriculum and in our school hallways and in our classrooms,” she added. “And that’s hard, and it feels gross sometimes and it feels like a struggle, but we owe it to our students, we owe it to our teachers and we owe it to our parents to do this unbelievably difficult work. So I want to encourage all of you to push past that feeling of discomfort.”
DISTRICT TO EXPLORE MANDATORY VACCINATIONS
The BUSD is looking to follow in the steps of Los Angeles County, which announced earlier this week that it would require all of its employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 1.
Board member Steve Ferguson requested that staff members bring back an item for consideration in the Aug. 19 meeting that would require inoculation for all district employees except for those with religious and medical exemptions.
“I think this is not an easy policy to call for, but in order to keep our students and staff safe, this is all we can throw at it and we need to do this together,” said Ferguson, who also proposed that employees show proof of vaccination no later than 60 days after the Food and Drug Administration officially approves the COVID-19 vaccine, a move that is reportedly coming in the near future. The FDA authorized emergency use of the Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson vaccines to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
A few Burbank parents expressed their unease about having their kids go back to school for in-person learning amid a spike in coronavirus cases. They worried that the BUSD would not be testing students and employees, but Hill assured them that the safety of students and teachers is their top priority.
“We take that seriously,” he said. “We do have protocols that have been working and have been keeping our students and employees safe.”
He added that more information about public health on campus will be provided by next week.