Los Angeles County took a step on Wednesday toward reopening schools by announcing that on-campus services can be offered to small cohorts of students in special education, individualized education plans and English as a second language programs beginning Monday Sept. 14.
However, Burbank Unified School District Superintendent Matt Hill advised BUSD families and the board of education that hurdles must be cleared before such a move can be made locally.
“Again, the key word is ‘may,’” Hill said during a virtual school board meeting on Thursday. “What we’re going to do is work with our teachers and our parents and our staff to determine what is the best way to do that. So that could be assessments for our students, it could be small groups, it could be small instruction. We want to be sure we’re thoughtful about that. That is something we’re going to be working on the next couple of weeks.”
The district staff will be working on the logistics of having small groups on campus and also discuss working conditions with employees.
A parent had mentioned the news during the public comment portion of the meeting and seemed hopeful about bringing students back to campus in phases. The superintendent reiterated that waivers to that effect are not presently being provided by the county, and current health conditions do not permit the district to allow in-person instruction for elementary and secondary students.
“I know there’s a lot of headlines to go around that said, ‘You can bring back these students’ or maybe not,” Hill said. “What we’re seeing across the country is people are rushing to bring students back, then they’re delaying it or they bring them back and they close schools down. We want to be thoughtful and consistent and have some sense of stability moving forward. So we’ll continue to have those deliberate conversations.”
BUSD is still developing a hybrid model that would provide limited in-person instruction for all students. It is uncertain when that plan will be completed, but Hill said he will provide any update to inform the community during the school board meeting scheduled for Oct. 1.
BUSD planned ahead for technical issues that would arise in a distance learning model, such as internet connectivity and laptops, but its staff didn’t anticipate one specific muddle.
“Capturing attendance in distant learning is probably one of the most difficult, convoluted, challenging things I’ve seen in a long time in education,” Hill said. “The state has required a mandate to track [attendance]. … I’ve read some of the emails saying this is just ridiculous and we agree.”
Overall attendance is tracking at 97% but is primarily driven by live online instruction. Only 74% of students are logging in for independent learning, but Hill is confident the actual number is in the high 90s.
Parents of elementary students and secondary students are required to log into Google Classroom and fill out an attendance form that is submitted to the teacher and later to the BUSD’s attendance system.
The district is focused on improving its communication with stakeholders, reaching out to students and parents to remind them to check in while working independently. Counselors and intervention specialists are also on the phones contacting families of possibly disengaged students.
“I understand the intent of the state,” said Hill, who reported that 129 of the roughly 15,000 students are currently disengaged. “We need to make sure the students are engaged in both types of learning and we’re tracking and reporting on that. … We’ve been working out the kinks.”
A more detailed report regarding attendance is expected to be presented to the board next month.