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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In Revising Policies, BUSD Explicitly Rejects Racism

Photo by Charles Hirsch / Burbank Leader
The Burbank Unified School District Board of Education is asking for recommendations in the renaming of David Starr Jordan Middle School as it advances in the name change process. Jordan is widely considered a controversial academic who espoused eugenics, a racist genetic theory based on selective breeding.

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.

Distance Learning Expected to Continue Through Semester

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.

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BUSD Crafts Policy on Equity, Diversity

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.”

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BUSD, Teachers Tentatively Agree on Distance Learning Hours

The Burbank Unified School District has reached a tentative agreement on a memorandum of understanding with the local teachers union regarding distance learning during the fall, district Superintendent Matt Hill said in his weekly update.
Burbank Teachers Association members will vote on the MOU within the next week and the board of education will discuss and vote on it during a meeting on Thursday, Aug. 6.
The MOU states that Google Classroom will be the primary platform used for distance learning, and live virtual instruction will be recorded and posted, if requested by a student or parent, for at least 72 hours. Zoom can also be used by teachers to interact with their students.
Remote learning at the high school level includes three 50-minute classes per day, Monday through Thursday, and students will be assigned 90 minutes’ worth of at-home assignments each day with live teacher monitoring and support, according to the memorandum.

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Budget, Schools’ Reopening Are on BUSD Leaders’ Minds

Though no public meetings were on the Burbank Unified School District’s agenda this week, Superintendent Matt Hill updated the community on the state of the budget and the reopening of school for the 2020-21 year — issues that have prompted keen interest among residents in recent weeks.
No agreement had been made between Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature as of Friday regarding the state budget, which is supposed to be ready by June 15. Suspension of operations because of health concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic gave lawmakers less time to negotiate.
The May budget revise from the governor proposed drastic cuts in school funding, a big concern for small districts such as Burbank’s. BUSD would have to cut more than $13 million, and Hill urges parents and guardians to continue writing to political leaders.
“We need to continue your advocating and email the governor and the legislature,” Hill wrote in his weekly update. “Without the support of the governor and legislature, BUSD will be forced to adopt the governor’s May revise.”
The BUSD staff will have a study session on Wednesday, June 17, and the Board of Education will convene the following day for a regular virtual meeting at 7 p.m.
Hill also notified parents that the Reopening Committee — which is separated into four subgroups and takes into consideration guidelines provided by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and California Department of Education — will work with the Burbank Teachers Association and California School Employees Association and is expected to share proposed instruction models on July 2. Continue reading “Budget, Schools’ Reopening Are on BUSD Leaders’ Minds”

BUSD: Deep Budget Cuts Call for Parent, Political Advocacy

Photo courtesy Ryan Hirsch

The Burbank Unified School District Board of Education issued a call for activism to its community members after revealing financial cuts totaling more than $13 million to local schools with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s current state budget proposal.
“We are going to be facing a substantial reduction and need to be realistic about that right now and make sure our parents and constituents understand that,” said board Vice President Steve Frintner.
During a special meeting on Tuesday, Assistant Superintendent Debbie Kutka and Director of Fiscal Services Alyssa Low presented to the board how the revisions to the state budget would essentially gut local districts, estimating a total $13.65 million in less LCFF funding for Burbank schools.
“As we start highlighting a menu of options for reductions, it is going to be shocking,” Superintendent Matt Hill said on Tuesday. “We’ve been looking through this. We’re talking about a lot of deep cuts that will completely transform this district in a negative way. That’s why we’re getting the information out there.
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BUSD Stands by Grading Policy Despite Backlash

The BUSD Board of Education, which includes (from left) Roberta Reynolds, Steve Frintner, Armond Aghakhanian, Charlene Tabet and Steve Ferguson, backed Superintendent Matt Hill and the Burbank Teacher’s Association’s decision to change this semester’s grading policy to Credit/No Credit after listening to disgruntled parents’ letters.

The Burbank Unified School District stood firm in its decision to go with a “Credit/No Credit” grading policy for the spring semester despite backlash and pleas from parents during the Board of Education meeting on Thursday.
Superintendent Matt Hill and the five board members responded to numerous letters from concerned — and angered — parents regarding the Burbank Teacher’s Association and district’s controversial decision. All local schools closed March 16 because the COVID-19 pandemic and students were given Chromebooks for distance learning.
“I completely understand the passion and advocacy for your children,” Hill addressed parents during the meeting. “The approach we took with our teachers was looking at all of the options and thinking of different scenarios for each option.
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