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.” Continue reading “BUSD Taking Cautious Approach in Return to Campus”
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. Continue reading “Without Vaccine, BUSD Staff Raise Concerns on Campus Return”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
With the blessing from several community members who spoke during a virtual meeting on Thursday, the Burbank Unified School District Board of Education unanimously approved the proposed revision of BUSD policies and administrative regulations that now include language rejecting “all forms of racism as destructive to the district’s mission, vision, values and goals.” The majority of public comments — lasting one hour, 49 minutes — at the meeting supported the district for its first steps in addressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. Teachers, parents and community members shared personal stories involving racism, and board members appeared moved by what they heard. “For us to be able to have that opportunity to listen and learn and create that dialogue so many people talk about, that is the start of this work,” said BUSD Superintendent Matt Hill. “Some of this work has been happening in individual classrooms, with individuals at the district level and board level. “But for us as the Burbank Unified School District to come out with a statement saying we are unified, we acknowledge our past, we acknowledge we aren’t perfect, we acknowledge that we need to move forward, that’s powerful. And it creates a space so we can have these conversations, that we can open our hearts and open our minds and continue the work.” That work involved understanding the system, structures and policies that hold the district back “from ensuring that all of our students thrive in our school district,” Hill added. Prior to the meeting, the district announced the launching of a website — at burbankusd.org/dei — that details BUSD’s journey to becoming more diverse and inclusive. There’s an introductory video in which Hill shared how he, coming from a working-class family, learned that the “American dream is not the same for everyone.” “It took my journey into education and my doctoral studies of social justice to really look at my life [and learn] my life is not the same as others’,” he said in the video. “There are barriers, systems, rules, regulations, processes that prevent many of our students of color and families of color to be successful. We must hear these stories; we must share our own stories and see how they’re different.”
RENAMING JORDAN MIDDLE SCHOOL
The district’s work during the past year to create a more diverse and inclusive environment for stakeholders has included an effort to rename David Starr Jordan Middle School. Assistant Superintendent John Paramo updated the board on the process, which was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said a committee tasked with renaming the school is “actually a very hard-working group” that is prepared to move forward. Jordan — the founding president of Stanford University — was a controversial academic who advocated in favor of eugenics, a movement that set out to improve the genetic composition of humankind by way of selective breeding and is now widely viewed as racist. The district sent out a survey in the form of a Google document on Friday that asks stakeholders to suggest a name and explain their choice. Suggestions will be taken through Nov. 13, and then the committee will bring three to five names to the board in February 2021. Board member Steve Ferguson recommended that the committee name the school after a woman. “I think that’s important, and while I don’t want to tie the committee’s hands extensively on searching for this, I think one school is a bare minimum and frankly should be a factor of consideration,” Ferguson said.
Though daily numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are better than those of the summer, they are not good enough for Los Angeles County to consider reopening nonessential businesses and schools. So Superintendent Matt Hill recommended Thursday to the local board of education that Burbank Unified School District campuses continue exclusively with distance learning for the wide majority of students through the fall semester. The move will give the district staff more time to work on protocols to be better prepared to reintroduce students and teachers to campus when the time comes.
The Burbank Unified School District’s mission and vision in regard to equity, diversity and inclusion began to take shape as staff presented first readings of a proposed anti-racist statement and revision of selected board policies and administrative regulations during a virtual board of education meeting on Thursday. As the country has grappled with systemic inequalities and injustice, BUSD this past summer formed a committee comprising board members, staff, teachers and parents to address the district’s own issues pertaining to equity and diversity by evaluating policies, curriculum and practices in an effort to provide a safe, inclusive environment for students and staff. The proposed statement read to board members stated that the district “denounces racism as the product of white default/supremacy culture and recognizes the impact of systemic and generational racism as traumatic to our country, community and school district. … We stand with the truthful and humane statement that all lives cannot matter until Black lives and the lives of indigenous people of color matter. We are taking steps to actively work toward being fully anti-racist, not only in word, but also in policy, practice and accountability.”