GUSD Sticks With Remote Teaching

Safety Drives School Decision, but Heavy Hearts Follow

Making the decision to start off the upcoming school year with students taking lessons through their computer screens represented a heavy moment for the officials making it.
Nevertheless, for those Glendale Unified School District leaders and likely for many parents, there is some relief in knowing what to plan for as the first day of class approaches on Aug. 19.
“I feel relieved to have clarity,” said Elizabeth Vitanza, whose son attends Franklin Elementary School. “I don’t think there’s a school district in the country that has figured this out. It seems like their response was sensitive to the concerns of some groups of parents and guardians around child care and standardizing the technology used.”
The GUSD Board of Education agreed unanimously this week to start the year with remote learning and to leave open the possibility of creating some sort of hybrid model in the future should public health guidelines allow for direct on-campus instruction. The decision nevertheless drew emotions from school board members who clearly were dreading it.
“Our precious kids, they won’t be able to see their schools on the first day of school,” said board President Armina Gharpetian, who fought tears, “especially our kindergartners who have never been to the school sites, our first-year middle school students and first-year high school students. Some of them, they’ve never been to the schools they’re going to go to. They don’t know what the school looks like.”
Some elementary school students may end up seeing what their school looks like, in a sense. Under a pod system, the district expects to provide child care for certain families by grouping a small group of students in one classroom, spaced out, where they can perform their remote learning work under the supervision and watch of an employee, likely a classified staffer or substitute teacher.
“That’s going to be a big issue,” said Leslie Dickson, a parent of four GUSD kids, on the need for child care. “We have a lot of kids who are fortunate to have a parent who stays home, but obviously we have kids who don’t or don’t have parents who can facilitate instruction.”
I think it’s a really good solution for people who have to go out,” she added. “No one wants this. We all want our kids in schools. I’m a teacher and I know what school is supposed to feel like, and knowing that none of that can happen in any form is really hard. I think GUSD is doing a really good job.”
Vitanza, who herself teaches at a private school in Los Angeles, agreed that the child-care portion will be a key relief for parents and district employees otherwise faced with having to monitor their own kids at home while working. She added that practices adopted in light of the pandemic might continue use with the district, depending on how effective they are.
“I think the situation has changed for a lot of parents who had a job and were laid off or furloughed in the spring,” Vitanza said. “I think they’re probably thinking creatively about that piece and, eventually when we do go back to school, maybe some of that will be retained.”
Still, it’s clear that the school year is going to have a big asterisk next to it. Typical on-campus experiences and events obviously aren’t going to be happening. The California Interscholastic Federation is expected to announce a plan for fall sports at a Monday press conference, after which individual districts have the final authority on which sports they will offer in any given season.
“Believe me,” said board member Greg Krikorian at Tuesday’s meeting. “I love watching CIF tournaments, the Battle of the Bell, cross-country matches, the marching bands — we have the best marching bands in the state — and now this pandemic is shutting them down. But we can’t shut down the educational system.”
“When we say ‘school,’ school is not just academics,” Gharpetian added. “It’s the experiences. It’s making new friends. It’s hanging out with your friends. It’s sharing funny moments, joining clubs, playing sports, learning a musical instrument, creating art, singing in a choir, going to assemblies, going to school dances, having pizza parties with your teachers, participating in classroom competitions and so many other things.
“For me, school is that,” the board president continued, “and unfortunately, we will not be able to provide all these experiences for our kids with 100% remote learning, but we are only doing this for the safety and health of our students, our teachers and our community as a whole. We’re not making this decision lightly.”
Dickson, whose eldest graduated from Crescenta Valley High School in June and has four other children in three GUSD schools, pointed out that other districts, like Burbank, Pasadena and Los Angeles unified school districts, also have gone with fully remote starts to the year.
“All of our neighboring districts are doing the same thing,” she said. “Doing anything different would be really irresponsible.”
Added Vitanza, who has served on the world languages advisory committee and superintendent’s parent advisory committee: “I’m cautiously optimistic that this could be a unifying moment in the history of GUSD. You’re always going to have the anti-mask contingent and others like that, but for those of us who have been invested in GUSD, it really seems like the school board members and Dr. Ekchian are working and acting in good faith.”

School Board Wants ‘100% Focus’ on Distance Learning to Start Year

By unanimous verdict, Glendale Unified School District will start the academic year at 100% remote learning, mirroring neighboring districts that are facing the realities of educating students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The selection was one of three provided to the GUSD Board of Education on Tuesday by Superintendent Vivian Ekchian, who ultimately recommended exactly what the board took up. The board also committed to bringing students back to campus in waves once it feels that the public health guidelines indicate that it’s relatively safe to do so. Ekchian’s recommendation was based on a litany of survey data from families and GUSD employees as well as guidance from Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
“I think the fall semester is a better turning point for when things might be different and I think right now we need 100% focus on one area, and that is remote and making it the best semester possible,” said Shant Sahakian, the board’s vice president. “I think we all hope that the school year and spring can end much stronger.”
This week, the Los Angeles, Burbank and Pasadena unified school districts all committed to 100% online models to kick off the school year. GUSD classes are slated to begin Wednesday, Aug. 19.
Much as school board members wished students could return to their schools on a normal schedule, they also acknowledged that simply was not an option right now, particularly as daily new cases of the coronavirus seem to set new records each day.
“Any decision we make, there’s going to be a segment that’s not going to be happy. But at the end of the day, I know from all the years that all of us have been in this community, the last thing we’d ever want is for something to happen to one of our kids,” said board member Greg Krikorian, who noted he “couldn’t be more supportive” of the remote decision. “I’m not personally willing to take the chance on a child or teacher’s life.”
Echoed board President Armina Gharpetian: “I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I knew somebody’s health is at risk because of our decision.”
Meanwhile, the district will continue to make available its free breakfasts and lunches to all children residing within the district, as it began doing in March when it, like virtually every other district in the state, closed its doors as reality dawned with respect to the pandemic. When the school year kicks off, the district plans to offer on-campus child care to families who need it. Small groups of students in child care would tentatively be assigned to a “pod” that has a dedicated classroom each day where kids can space out and do their remote learning.
This service would likely be offered strictly to elementary school students and would prioritize children who receive free or reduced-price lunch, children of essential workers and children of district employees. Ekchian said the district would make a final decision based on how many families express a need for child care and go from there. Classified employees and substitute teachers would likely be brought in to monitor these pods.
“Ultimately, our capacity has to be supplemented with family and community support, whether it’s for child care or nutrition services for medical care or employer flexibility,” the superintendent said Tuesday. “We have to be able to support our parents to reinforce the needs and guidelines around physical distancing, to ensure that children are engaged with e-learning and to make sure that parents are able to keep their sick children at home.”
Board members emphasized the need to ramp up what the remote teaching system was like in the spring and stressed that equity should be a priority among the district’s 26,000 students.
“The fact is that teaching remotely, no matter how vibrant it’s going to be, it is not the same as in-person,” said board Clerk Nayiri Nahabedian. “It’s a social justice issue, to be able to do right by our more vulnerable populations.”
Constant communication with stakeholders, the board and superintendent contended, will be key to future decisions as well.
“I know we have been working over the last several years to really increase engagement, really make sure that we are hearing from folks and that we are really taking that into account,” said board member Jennifer Freemon. “All of that has come together and up here on the dais, we have a really good pulse on where our entire GUSD community is, which helps us understand what can be done.”

Officials Urge Safety Protocols as Businesses Again Shut Down

As COVID-19 continues to surge — with Los Angeles County on Thursday registering its biggest single-day total of new cases, 4,592 — Glendale officials are urging residents to remain resilient and follow safety protocols, including wearing face coverings in public and staying home if possible.
The city is also entreating residents to maintain social distancing and limit physical contact to family members with whom they live — what the Glendale Fire Department has dubbed “keeping it family style,” said Chief Silvio Lanzas.
“If you’re going to be out in public, you should wear a face covering,” he said, emphasizing that those who are outside but not around anyone — jogging early in the morning, for example — should have a face covering with them and be ready to put it on should they cross paths with another person.
“We are really trying to focus efforts on the educational piece — when our team is out in the community we constantly remind people to put their mask on and to wear it properly, put it up over the nose,” Lanzas said.
Though Lanzas said he is aware there is some resistance among community residents to wearing masks, officials are trying hard to praise those who are doing a good job of following safety protocols to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Continue reading “Officials Urge Safety Protocols as Businesses Again Shut Down”

D.A. Charges Two in Fatal Shooting of Man, 20

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has filed murder and attempted murder charges against a man and a woman in the fatal shooting of a Glendale resident outside a local restaurant in May.
Officers from the Glendale Police Department arrested 20-year-old David Rodriguez and 21-year-old Liana Mkrtchyan on Thursday, July 9, in connection with the death of 20-year-old Teodik Atanes on May 20, GPD spokesman said. A 10-year-old boy also was wounded in the shooting, the spokesman added.
Both suspects were charged with one count of murder and one count of attempted murder, according to the GPD. They were scheduled for arraignment in L.A. Superior Court in Pasadena this week. Bail for Rodriguez, of Glendale, was set at $4 million and for Mkrtchyan, of Van Nuys, at $3.05 million.

Continue reading “D.A. Charges Two in Fatal Shooting of Man, 20”

Fire Chief Clears the Smoke

A Glendale Fire Department rapid intervention crew was praised in a review of this Jan. 16 blaze, when the team quickly moved to rescue two firefighters who had fallen through the first floor of an apartment building into the basement. One of the rescues is pictured here.
Photo courtesy Glendale Fire Department

As Silvio Lanzas sees it, transparency is a vital part of leadership and professionalism in the firefighting world.
The Glendale fire chief said that’s why he elected to publicly share the department’s summary report of the Jan. 16 response to 140 Carr Drive, an apartment building with a fully developed blaze on the first floor as well as the basement. The response ultimately injured two firefighters, but the four tenants who were inside were rescued — and, most important, there were no fatalities.
“Culturally, one of the things I’m trying to bring to the Glendale Fire Department is one of transparency,” Lanzas said in a phone interview this week. “I’m very proud of our organization, both for what occurred on that day and also equally as proud for their willingness to be open and transparent about what things could have been done differently and what things were done well. That’s really how you make the fire service better.” Continue reading “Fire Chief Clears the Smoke”

City Council Extends Moratorium on Rent Hikes, Resident Evictions

The city’s moratorium on eviction for residential tenants, as well as its freeze on residential rent hikes, was extended a month by unanimous vote at this week’s City Council meeting.
The City Council also renewed its broad requirement that people wear face coverings while out in public, and allowed its moratorium on commercial evictions to expire. Those officials expect to revisit the three ongoing policies again before they’re scheduled to sunset, as it customarily has done since implementing the pandemic-related responses.
However, Councilman Ardy Kassakhian warned that the city will face “a serious reckoning” in the near future if no solution is uncovered to meet the financial needs of those landlords who have missed out on months of their income.
“It cannot continue indefinitely,” Kassakhian said, suggesting that city officials bridge meetings between tenants and landlords groups. “I don’t know what the county is going to do. I can’t predict it. But I can only imagine what would happen if this situation continued.” Continue reading “City Council Extends Moratorium on Rent Hikes, Resident Evictions”

COVID-19 Battle May Even Extend to Crosswalk Buttons

Glendale Public Works staff members will research and present options to the City Council to add precautionary implements to pedestrian crosswalk buttons in an effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
The council on Tuesday unanimously backed the idea advanced by Councilman Ara Najarian and Councilwoman Paula Devine after a lengthy discussion on modifying crosswalk signals in accordance with the present pandemic hygiene culture. Though the discussion initially considered placing crosswalks and traffic signals on a predetermined timer, officials seem poised to later consider that modification as part of a broader conversation on traffic calming and the city’s walkability.
“I think the motorists and residents are going to go bananas” if signals are automated, Najarian contended Tuesday. “We’ve got a difficult situation at best in our downtown area.” Continue reading “COVID-19 Battle May Even Extend to Crosswalk Buttons”

Local Protesters Join Others Throughout Nation

Hindman Protesters march peacefully in Montrose on Wednesday in a rally against police brutality and institutional racism following the death of George Floyd, a black man, while he was being arrested in Minneapolis in May.
Photo courtesy Kate Hindman
Protesters march peacefully in Montrose on Wednesday in a rally against police brutality and institutional racism following the death of George Floyd, a black man, while he was being arrested in Minneapolis in May.

La Crescenta and Montrose residents made it known this week that they stand with countless others throughout the state, nation and world in calling out the police conduct linked to the deaths of George Floyd and other men and women believed to be targeted for being black.
Some marchers said that the sheer ubiquity of the current movements — which are ongoing in every state of the union and throughout the world — may represent a sea change in public opinion on law enforcement conduct, particularly toward minorities who are overrepresented in myriad criminal justice system statistics.
“This feels super different,” said La Crescenta resident Kate Hindman, who attended the Montrose protest on Wednesday. “I’ve gone to protests in the past, and I’d be so fired up that I basically just wanted to be seen. [The public responses now] are fueling the idea that if we keep going, we’re going to see actual, tangible changes instead of just the abstract ideas of ‘We’re protesting and this is why.’”
Protests erupted last week after video surfaced of Floyd’s arrest on May 25, in which one Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck and back for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while Floyd suffocated, according to an autopsy. Three other officers were shown simply looking on as a crowd of people pleaded for the officer to stop. Although mostly concentrated in major cities at first, they have especially in Los Angeles County trickled down to the various suburbs, including here.
“You think to yourself, ‘I should be there I should be in the thick of it. That’s where the change is happening,’” explained Love Lee, a 20-year-old La Crescenta resident who helped others plan Wednesday’s demonstration. “There’s so much change happening, so you think to yourself ‘What can a protest in La Crescenta do?’ We needed to have this so badly in our community. I would see comments online saying, ‘We don’t need this kind of thing in our community.’ I think those comments show precisely why we needed to bring this here. That in itself is privilege, when you can step back from politics and social activism and not suffer any systematic repercussions or consequences.”
The group, which had anywhere from 100 to 300 participants by various estimations, marched down Honolulu Avenue to Verdugo Boulevard, and down to Montrose Community Park. There, the protesters knelt for an 8-minute-46-second duration and listened to a handful of speakers.
A contingent of officers with the Glendale Police Department remained nearby, according to Sgt. Christian Hauptmann with GPD. Though officers were not escorting or guiding the demonstration, they did move in to pause traffic when people entered the roadways.
“One way or the other, we diverted traffic for them,” Hauptmann said.
However, some of the group felt the outsize presence was unnecessary.
Some of the protesters “were calling for some of the GPD in front of us to take a knee in solidarity,” explained 21-year-old Gwenyth Greco, a La Crescenta native attending Cal State Northridge. “After about 5 or 10 minutes, the protesters clustered closer together and some of the GPD began revving their motorcycles.”
Greco, who was among the organizers of the protest, said a couple of motorcycle officers rode close to the group, in a manner she felt was meant to intimidate.
“I hope it isn’t a reflection of GPD as a whole,” she added. “I don’t know if it was the same officers on the motorbikes, but two officers were sort of brandishing their batons, and members of the crowd were pleading with them to stop and put them away. There were still children in the crowd, and older adults. There were families, parents, not just teenagers.”
Hindman said she agreed.
“It just really clashed with what we were trying to do,” she said. “It just felt a little intense and a little aggressive and a bit of a reminder of where so many of our resources are being spent.”
Hauptmann acknowledged that videos were circulating on social media regarding this instance.
“We’re aware of it and it’s being investigated,” he added.
Lee and other explained that they first met through social media posts about wanting to organize a protest and eventually formed a Discord chat group to plan the event. Planners privately invited friends and family, Lee explained, to avoid attracting the attention of outsiders who might want to escalate the demonstration.
“These are people who are trying to fulfill some fantasy they have about destroying property,” Lee said, referring to rioters and looters from L.A.’s protests, “but the movement itself is trying to push an agenda that is peaceful.”
Being part of a worldwide moment is proving to be surreal, particularly as it seems to be crystallizing into possible policy change, the demonstrators said.
“It’s cool to see that we’re all taking a stand together,” Greco said. “When was the last time all 50 states did something together? This is all across the world. I never thought we’d see something like it.”
Hindman noted that this week, the FBI opened an investigation into the March killing of Breonna Taylor, a black EMT, when Louisville police officers were engaged in a no-knock search warrant on her apartment regarding a drug investigation which had two suspects already in custody.
“I feel like the focus is kind of shifting to her now, so I find myself wondering what’s the next thing after that,” she said.
Nick Zamora, a 19-year-old Crescenta Valley High School graduate, said he, too, is hopeful for continuing progress.
“I was very proud of it, considering that we were able to keep it so peaceful,” he said, speaking on the protest. “I feel like we need to bring our support even though we don’t specifically face the same problem others do. We need to show our support in the community.”

College Success Fund ‘Planting Seeds of Hope’

This Glendale 1st-grader hopes to use the $50 from the Student Success Fund to attend college and become a veterinarian, saying, “When I make animals feel better, I feel happy.”

Amid the requisite challenging financial news that accompanies every meeting in the COVID-19 era, the Glendale Unified School District launched a truly uplifting program on Thursday evening that pierced through the typical report of budget deficits and dwindling reserves.
It’s called the College Success Fund, a long-awaited new initiative that will provide each 1st-grader within GUSD with a $50 savings account to begin the long financial road toward post-secondary education.
Continue reading “College Success Fund ‘Planting Seeds of Hope’”

County Receives Go-Ahead for More Reopenings

Photo by Zane Hill / Glendale News-Press
The Americana at Brand plans to reopen its stores for normal business — at half capacity — starting on Monday. Los Angeles County officials decided this week that retailers could reopen with the restrictions.

Los Angeles County officials have given the green light for restaurants to resume dine-in service, as well as for barbers and hair salons to reopen, provided they adhere to proper distancing and hygiene protocol.
The Friday update followed an announcement from Gov. Gavin Newsom that L.A. County was free to reopen those businesses according to state guidelines. Glendale, like most L.A. County cities, follows health direction from the county Department of Public Health.
Continue reading “County Receives Go-Ahead for More Reopenings”