After much discourse and explanation from Burbank Unified School District staff members, the Board of Education approved — with some apprehension — the memorandum of understanding between teachers and BUSD during Thursday’s virtual meeting.
The motion to adopt the 15-page document passed, 4-1. The lone dissenting vote came from Charlene Tabet, who echoed parents’ concerns regarding the schedule that includes four days of mixed live classroom instruction and independent learning — Monday through Thursday — and a “pupil-free” workday on Friday.
Community members expressed worry that children would not get enough interaction with teachers, especially on a Friday that does not require students to check in. Tabet said she wasn’t so sure students would take advantage of that time with their instructors, and also expressed concern for those in special education and English-language learning.
“The kids you’re talking about, [special education] and ELL kids that are going to have difficulty in their regular classroom, are going to need that Friday to meet with their teachers, to meet for special help,” she said. “But yet, that’s also the day that [special education managers] plan to work with them … those kids are not going to get the extra time with their [mainstream] teachers that they need.”
The board accepted the memorandum with the understanding that it can be reevaluated and staff can present data regarding student attendance in future meetings.
“This is a living document,” said Sarah Niemann, assistant superintendent of human resources, who fielded questions from the board regarding the agreement with teachers. “We know that this is going to change as we work things out. … We agree to meet. We will talk about this. We will evaluate this to see how the instructional model is being used and if it’s being used to improve student learning outcomes.
“So if we’re finding that our student learning or the outcomes are not there, we’re going to meet. The district can call it, the teachers can call it, if Public Health calls and changes something, we’re going to call it.”
Teachers have the option of working in person at BUSD campuses. Niemann said the majority of teachers were in favor of that, noting that it’s more effective to be onsite with materials in the classroom in an effort to “make it the most real classroom environment” possible.
Some board members felt the wording of the memorandum was vague, leaving misunderstandings about instruction and interaction between teachers and students.
“There is language in this that is certainly not clear,” said BUSD Vice President Steve Frintner. “And that clearly has caused parents a lot of consternation and doubt. I understand the need to be flexible and allow flexible scheduling. … But that has led to bringing up doubts for parents, teachers and staff.”
Superintendent Matt Hill took the blame for the lack of communication between staff, the board and parents.
“What’s challenging with an MOU, especially in a pandemic, is that level of specificity and details,” he said. “How do you truly capture what our teachers talked about and put that into a 15-page document? I want to take that onus, and I want to apologize for that. We tried to create a framework and a level that provides guidance.”
Hill defended the schedule, and said that Los Angeles Unified has a similar model that in which students will not receive instruction on Monday.
“I am very confident that our teachers are going to have exciting opportunities for our students on Fridays so that they’re going to want to attend that,” he said. “For parents, it’s optional. For teachers, it’s not optional. They’re going to be there. They’re ready. They want to meet and engage with students.
“I want to clarify [Friday] is not a pupil-free day. Students are working. They have 240 minutes of work they need to complete and they have an opportunity of 360 minutes to engage with every single one of their teachers every single Friday.”
Niemann added that teachers will be held accountable for their work and evaluated by administrators.
“The contract still stands and teachers are still working 8-3,” she said. “There’s still an expectation. They’re still professionals and they are working, responding and interacting with students and parents. That has not gone away. … That’s inherent in our contract already.”
After reading concerns on social media, several teachers used the public comments portion of the meeting to give more detail about instruction and their schedule. According to Burbank Teachers Association President Diana Abasta, 88.9% of members approved the distance learning model.
“We know no agreement or contract is perfect, but we are all in agreement that we will go back to it if we find that there are elements in the MOU that are not working,” Abasta said. “ … If I were to write a script, I would not start off in a year of the pandemic, but it would start off like this: The year that BTA, BUSD and our parent community rose to meet the challenges of distance learning with resilience, perseverance and compassion so that all our students can grow and achieve.”
She also asked for parents to “be our partners” and vowed to “hold our end of the net.”
“If you hold yours and do what you can to support your child’s learning environment, you will succeed. So when that bell rings figuratively speaking at 8 a.m. on August 17, I will be ready and my students will be ready to learn.”
Steve Ferguson said a memorandum for Phase 2, which as of now is scheduled to operate at a limited capacity such as a hybrid model, was also a point of discussion. Board member Steve Ferguson said the memorandum should also be in place so parents and students understand what the next phase looks like after a difficult spring.
“We did our best; teachers did everything they could; I think staff did everything they could to try and make this work; parents went out of their way to learn new things, but it failed,” Ferguson said. “Still things, students fell through the cracks. If we think mid-semester this may change, that’s going to be an issue. So we need to discuss how long it does take to transition.”
“The parents need adequate notice if we are going to make any changes because they’re already making significant changes in their life,” said board member Roberta Reynolds. “And if they do manage to make those changes so it works, to give them short notice on any changes would just be disastrous.”
Niemann assured staff that discussion about the next phase will resume, and Hill added that discussions with county public health officials indicated that on-campus instruction will likely not happen before November.
EQUITY, DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION
The equity, diversity and inclusion committee remains hard at work in updating the district’s anti-racism policy.
Hill said that the language of the new policy needs clarification, and teams within the committee will address communication, professional development, human resources, curriculum and instruction, staff and students.
The instruction subcommittee is reviewing options to diversify curriculum, books, school libraries and offering ethnic studies.
A subcommittee is working to engage and collect the best practices from schools and the district. It is also developing a website that informs the community and a survey is also in the works to collect feedback from employees, students and parents.
The social emotional well-being of students and staff is also being considered. A different subcommittee is reviewing the roles of intervention specialists and counselors.