This article was originally published in the Burbank Leader on Aug. 14
The past 17 months have been anything but ordinary for California students and teachers who dealt with distance learning and, later, limited in-person instruction amid the coronavirus pandemic. But the Burbank Unified School District is ready for a semblance of normal life with a return to a full five-day, in-person schedule on Monday, Aug. 16.
“I am very excited,” said BUSD Superintendent Matt Hill in an interview on Thursday. “Last year’s school opening just wasn’t the same. To have our teachers and employees back on campus — I can’t wait. The energy we got in the fall from hybrid learning and full in-person [instruction] for the summer was a good start, and I feel comfortable with the safety measures we’ve been putting in place.”
Safety remains the top priority for Hill, who said he learned from the hybrid experience in the final two months of the 2020-21 school year and feels better prepared going into the fall semester.
“We’re learning every day and we continue to put in different safety measures,” he said. “It was nice to have a smaller number of students back so we can work through protocols and procedures. Of course, we had some cases in the spring and in the summer but not a lot. We made sure that we implemented [protocols] quickly so we don’t have any large scale spread of coronavirus.”
District staff members and site administrators will follow the guidelines set by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, in line with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent announcement that all unvaccinated educators must submit to weekly testing.
“Not everybody will be overwhelmed by this, but we think it will be well received because it is the right thing to do to keep our most precious resource healthy and safe, our children here in the state,” said Newsom, whose goal is to encourage more residents to get vaccinated. “We’re trying to support the needs of 6.1 million public school kids, and we have been engaged in addressing the concern and anxiety around reopening our schools.”
Burbank plans to go one step further and require all employees — except for those who qualify for medical or religious exemption — to be inoculated within 60 days after the Food and Drug Administration approves available vaccines.
Unvaccinated students will also be tested weekly as long as parents give the district their consent.
About 300 parents plan to keep their children home this academic year by opting for independent study, and more than 14,500 students will be back on BUSD campuses for in-person instruction in the coming week.
“I think it just shows the confidence families have in what we’ve been doing and we will continue to do that,” Hill said.
Though Hill anticipates that most students and teachers will be happy to be back in school with a normal schedule, he also knows that learners may feel anxiety about returning after dealing with the pandemic.
“The physical safety of employees and students is No. 1 and second is mental health and wellness,” Hill said. “That has been a big focus and one of the main themes I’ve been talking about to employees, telling them that we have to take care of ourselves. It’s like getting on a plane and the masks come down, you put on the mask on yourself. We have access to resources.
“We are embedding a lot more social emotional curriculum into our school day. It’s going to be critical. I don’t think anyone realizes how much trauma we’ve been through. It’s been a constant marathon of changing information and data. When we get to campus, we don’t know how we’re going to react, so we need to be prepared to support everyone, and I think we’ve done a good job here in Burbank to have that support in place.”
For more information about the district’s health and safety protocols this year, visit burbankusd.org. Hill also encouraged families to reach out to him regarding any concerns or questions.
“We want to hear feedback,” he said. “It is sad, but coronavirus is here for a while, so we’re going to have to make sure that we continue to revise protocols and we’re doing it daily. I’m really grateful to the team that has been working so hard, starting with nurses, facilities and teachers. Everybody has been taking it so seriously. We want to make it safe for kids but also fun and engaging learning.”