New Hire Seen as Important to Schools’ DEI Effort

First published in the Oct. 9 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

Though COVID-19 vaccines were at the center of discussion among stakeholders during the Board of Education meeting on Thursday, the Burbank Unified School District reminded the community that it remains hard at work in implementing its diversity, equity and inclusion initiative.
The district announced that one of many of its goals was achieved on Thursday with the hiring of Stefani McCoy, who will serve as the BUSD DEI consultant and coordinator. The board voted 5-0 in favor of the hiring, which board member Emily Weisberg called an “exciting step.”
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BUSD Will ‘Follow Research, Data, Health Guidelines’

Matt Hill

Each year we welcome back students, families and employees to our schools, but this year is extra special. We continue to persevere through a challenging pandemic.
Most of us have been impacted by this pandemic in many ways. However, with the rise of vaccines and the appropriate health guidelines, we are now in a position to return students and employees full-time to campuses this fall. We are going to continue to follow research, data and health guidelines to protect our students and employees. We will also have an independent study option for families who feel it is not safe for their child to return at this time.
As we start the school year, we have the opportunity to build upon the innovations and learnings from this past year to improve upon the excellent teaching and learning that takes place in our schools each day.
For the 2021-22 school year, the Board of Education has adopted the following goals:

  1. Students will be career/college ready via high-quality instruction
  2. Students will be physically, emotionally and mentally healthy
  3. Recruit and retain highly qualified employees
  4. Maintain efficient and effective operations
    To help our students with their academic and social-emotional needs, we are also implementing additional supports:
    • Expanded academic interventions
    • Expanded mental health resources via our partnership with Burbank Family Service Agency
    • Expanded focus on social-emotional learning at each of our schools
    • A stronger commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) via professional development and supports.
    By continuing to work together, we will build a stronger BUSD. Here’s to a great year!

Schools Celebrate Full Return to Campuses

Photo courtesy Sarah Varosky
Sarah Varosky drops off her son Eliott at Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary on Monday, which was the Burbank Unified School District’s first full day of in-person instruction since the pandemic began 17 months ago.

Superintendent Matt Hill of the Burbank Unified School District goes into every new school year feeling butterflies in his stomach, but he said the nerves he felt on Monday were replaced with joy when he saw students and teachers connecting on the first day of full in-person instruction in 17 months.

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BUSD Taking Cautious Approach in Return to Campus

Public health officials gave Los Angeles County elementary schools the green light to reopen for students in transitional kindergarten through 6th grade due to a decline in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
The announcement, however, doesn’t change the Burbank Unified School District’s plans of reopening schools for the majority of its students the safest way possible, which can happen only with time and planning, according to Superintendent Matt Hill.
“Just because some announcement happens and says we hit this metric, [we] reopen the next day,” Hill said during a virtual board of education meeting on Thursday. “We’re not going to do it that way. We’re going to make sure that we have plenty of time to make that transition and we’re going to work with everyone to get there. I am very optimistic we will get there, and we will get there in a thoughtful manner.”
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Without Vaccine, BUSD Staff Raise Concerns on Campus Return

With COVID-19 cases declining in Los Angeles County, the Burbank Unified School District is planning to expand its on-campus services by bringing back small groups of students, but the potential move has raised concerns for employees.
During a virtual meeting of the board of education Thursday, an emotional Louis Ayala, a California Schools Employee Association executive representative, spoke about the impact the coronavirus has had on workers and their families. He asked that the board and district staff focus on providing vaccines for employees and give them the same opportunities given to teachers working remotely.
“There is no vaccine for our classified employees, but you are going to ask them to go to the front lines?” he asked. “Will you go with them and see what they have to perform on a daily basis?
“Where’s the equality?”
Ayala expressed frustration about the scenario of bringing back more students and worried that the protocols in place would not be enough to keep employees safe.
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Distance Learning Taking Toll on Parents

Photo courtesy Leeron Tal Dvir
Teacher Claire Vencill reads to students Charlie Piedlow and Liam Dvir. Liam’s mother said she turned her garage into a classroom for the home-schoolers after her son’s struggles with distance learning.

Leeron Tal Dvir’s older son, Micah, is excelling in his 5th-grade classes at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. In fact, he’s performing even better than he had during in-person classes.
But when her younger son, Liam, had classes online at Thomas Edison Elementary School last semester, he cried every day. “I hate fake school,” the 1st-grader would tell her.
Dvir hired a tutor to assist him in his distance learning lessons, and this semester she pivoted him fully to home schooling after building a classroom in her garage. Having someone to work closely with her son, the single mother said, helped immensely.
“I think a lot of parents are really struggling mentally,” Dvir said. “I think it is the school’s responsibility to make sure the families are doing all right. We’re all of a sudden responsible for having school in our homes. We didn’t sign up for that.”

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BUSD’s Verdict: Distance Learning for Entire Year

For the past month, Superintendent Matt Hill warned of the possibility that Burbank Unified School District students would need to continue distance learning for the remainder of the academic year.
The recent surge of COVID-19 cases made that a reality on Monday.
BUSD officials had held out hope that students might be able to safely return to campus for in-person instruction in the second semester, but Hill this week sent a message informing parents, students and employees that the district has decided to commit to distance learning.

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BUSD Receives Support in Book Controversy

Parents and students came to the defense of the Burbank Unified School District during a virtual Board of Education meeting on Thursday, supporting its decision not to allow teachers to include several books in their lesson plans for the year as it reevaluates its core curriculum.
Over the past two months, a slew of teachers, students and parents have voiced their disapproval over the district’s exclusion of “To Kill a Mockingbird, “The Cay,” “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “Of Mice of Men.” Though they are not part of the curriculum at the moment, the books, which have racially oriented content, are available to all students at each school library.

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Return to On-Campus Learning Appears in Jeopardy

A recent surge of new COVID-19 cases around the nation has Burbank Unified School District officials coming to grips with the possibility that the majority of its students will not be allowed to return to campus for in-person instruction this academic year.
The district recently committed to distance learning through the remainder of the first semester and staff members have been refining a hybrid model that would bring back students at a limited capacity.
However, a current trend in coronavirus cases had the board of education questioning whether it is best to continue working on a hybrid schedule or shift the focus to enhancing the distance learning experience.
In Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ranking system, Los Angeles County remains in Tier 1, a classification that indicates a widespread risk of COVID-19 infection and keeps schools closed. The county would have to meet the next tier’s thresholds for two weeks to move into Tier 2, which indicates substantial risk of infection.

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BUSD Updates Parents on Eventual Return to the Classroom

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.”

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