Though the Burbank Unified School District made the decision to continue exclusively with distance learning for the wide majority of students through the remainder of the semester, staff members gave stakeholders an idea of what in-person instruction in a world of COVID-19 could look like.
Superintendent Matt Hill and other staff members hosted a virtual session on Wednesday about the possible reopening of schools and fielded questions from parents. Right off the bat, Hill said the district is “not expecting any changes right now for this current semester” and that staff is planning for a return to campus when permissible by health officials.
“The earliest that we would [reopen campuses] is January,” he said, “but we are not saying January is when we would do that. We do not have a date right now because health conditions change frequently.”
In Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ranking system, the county remains in Tier 1, a classification that indicates a widespread risk of COVID-19 infection and thus keeps schools and many businesses closed. Since the beginning of the semester, Hill and the board of education have been consistent in their message to stakeholders: the district will not rush into reopening schools only to revert back to distance learning soon after.
“If you read [reports on Wednesday], Riverside County moved from [Tier 1] up to the red tier [Tier 2, substantial risk of COVID-19 infection],” Hill said. “They were moving to reopen schools and now they went back to [Tier 1] and they had a slowdown. … We are going to plan on multiple scenarios, but we’re not going to rush to a decision that we would have to quickly undo.”
Should Los Angeles County Department of Public Health allow in-person instruction in January, BUSD plans to have a hybrid schedule that would separate students into morning and afternoon cohorts. Half would attend school on campus for live instruction and work independently from home in the afternoon. The other half would work remotely in the morning and attend class in the afternoon.
The district sent out a form to families on Friday asking them to decide whether they want their children to commit to distance learning for the remainder of the school year or back on campus if the county allows it.
“As a parent, I know how frustrating that is to try to make a decision right now for a ‘what if’ in the future,” Hill said. “I understand that concern, but we need your data. All of this is going to be fluid.”
The information collected will help administrators and staff to develop a schedule, and Hill said it was best to plan ahead.
“It takes an immense amount of time and planning to match students to either a distance model or a hybrid model and then match our employees on their health conditions,” he said. “So we need to get your commitment to what you would want to do for the spring if we are able to reopen. So we need to be able to plan through that and do scenarios. To put into context, [creating] master schedules in a normal year takes us a couple of months. We now asking our principals and support team to do that in a couple of weeks. It is a massive undertaking.”
Staff assured parents that they acquired cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment — such as disinfecting wipes and face coverings — for employees and students. Each site has multiple hand sanitizer dispensers and water fountains have been retrofitted with bottle fillers. Numerous signs have been placed throughout campus to remind students of heath guidelines, such as social distancing and washing hands often.
Stickers have also been placed on the floor to provide a specific direction for students in the hallways and indicate 6 feet of separation. Administrators will be at different locations to monitor the students, including outside of the restrooms to limit the number of people inside.
High-touch areas, such as light switches and door handles, will be cleaned at least three times daily, and employees will clean restrooms and refill sanitizer stations and soap and paper towel dispensers at least twice a day. Plexiglas barriers will be installed in each classroom and each classroom will be fully cleaned at the end of the day.
BUSD will not provide coronavirus testing at any of its sites but it has positive case protocols in place that follow public health guidelines.
“School nurses have been educated by the Los Angeles Health Department, Los Angeles County Office of Education and by Children’s Hospital Los Angeles on the decision pathways for symptomatic persons and contacts of a potentially infected person,” said Lenora Aguilera, the district’s head school nurse. “This has been vital. Believe me, I understand there are so many concerns in regards to COVID-19 and the health and safety of your children and our families. And I just want to remind our families what we all need to do for the health and safety of our school community and community as a whole [is] frequent handwashing is imperative.”
The district will host another virtual session with parents on Tuesday, Oct. 27, from 6-7:30 p.m. to talk about reopening plans for students with special needs.
For more information about reopening, visit burbankusd.org.