Elementary schools throughout the state are gradually returning to a semblance of normal by reopening their doors to students, and the Burbank Unified School District is looking to do the same nearly one year after closing its campuses.
During a Board of Education meeting on Thursday, Superintendent Matt Hill said the necessary safety precautions and measures are in place to move forward. The district has an agreement in place with classified employees and began negotiations with teachers on Friday.
“We said that safety is going to be the No. 1 priority from day one, and we’ve done that,” Hill said. “ … What can we do to bring in students to help with the social emotional aspects and to help in small group instruction? And how can we provide that to more students? That’s the conversation we want to have together. We want to have that conversation with our teachers. We want feedback. We want to look at that because things are getting better.”
What was once a bleak and dire outlook has changed dramatically over the past month. COVID-19 cases have plummeted throughout Los Angeles County — which has been the epicenter of the pandemic — after a devastating winter surge, and public health officials recently gave schools the green light to reopen for students in transitional kindergarten through sixth grade.
The district delivered on its promise to inoculate employees, with nearly 900 of 1,800 BUSD employees given an opportunity to receive a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Another 800 doses will be available next week.
“We will have an opportunity for every single employee in Burbank Unified to get their vaccine,” Hill said. “That is amazing progress. That is remarkable for us. That is a big step forward for us. We need to celebrate that.”
Though the Burbank Teachers Association appreciates the efforts of the district, President Diana Abasta believes it is best to “proceed with caution.”
“I think instead where we should put our energies is in planning and making sure that when school begins in August, that we are not only safe but we are ready,” she said on Thursday. “Coming back to school even with the promise of the carrot on the stick is not enough.”
Abasta’s statement and negotiations between Burbank teachers and the district come on the heels of an agreement made between Gov. Gavin Newsom and California lawmakers. State officials announced Monday to offer $2 billion to school districts that open for transitional students in transitional kindergarten through second grade.
“Since the height of the winter surge, we have successfully shifted the conversation from whether to reopen schools to when,” Newsom said in a statement. “Now our collective charge is to build on that momentum and local leadership, and — just as critically — do whatever it takes to meet the mental health and academic needs of our students, including over the summer.”
Schools that reopen for in-person instruction by April 1 will receive financial incentives, which could alleviate the district’s financial struggles.
The board lauded Burbank teachers for their hard work this year but urged them to consider taking the leap to helping their students in person.
“A year ago, we had to crash land this plane together,” board member Steve Ferguson said. “We had no history; no training, nothing and we had to make it work. And for all intents and purposes, as frustrated as people are to get back to their lives and to their world, we did this really well, and we did it together.
“We are now hitting a new phase of this journey and it’s the scariest of them all. It’s trying to define what’s going to be normal, and we can’t do that alone. We need our teachers more than ever. … I don’t want to rush anything as a board member. I don’t think anybody does that up here, but we have a fundamental responsibility as a public institution to help our community stand back up, to get people back to work. And so we need to work together — especially through negotiations — in a very short timeline because of the state and its decision to incentivize reopening. We’ve got to work together to find it.”
Hill assured teachers and parents that any plans would build on, not disrupt, the district’s virtual learning model. He does not want to add cameras to classrooms or change the schedules of teachers and students.
“We will take thoughtful steps moving forward and we’re at a place where we can talk about that next step forward,” he said.
FOOTBALL PLAYERS BACK ON THE FIELD
Though the majority of BUSD students are not permitted on campus, a select few who participate in athletics were able to make their official return to the field on Monday.
The football teams from Burbank and John Burroughs high schools were able to practice wearing helmets and pads for the first time in nearly a year.
“It’s just great to be back out there,” said Bulldogs head football coach Adam Colman. “Just seeing the faces on the kids is huge. They’re feeling like kids again.”
Burroughs head coach Jesse Craven echoed Colman, but was especially glad to see his seniors be given an opportunity to play one season.
“It’s exciting for them because they have invested a lot over the last three years,” he said. “It’s also great for the younger players because they get an opportunity to play with the seniors and learn from them. They will grow in the spring and hopefully build our foundation for the fall.”
Burbank High will open the season on the road against Pasadena on Friday, March 19. The following week, the Bulldogs will host Arcadia for their home opener. The final three games will be played against Crescenta Valley, Pasadena Muir and Burroughs.
“There’s a lot of logistics and behind-the-scenes work, and we’re very thankful for our athletic directors and administrators for making it happen,” Colman said. “They’ve done it all for the kids.”
The Indians will begin the shortened season with three consecutive road games against Crescenta Valley, Pasadena and Muir. They will play their final two contests at home against Arcadia and Burbank.
Though the CIF Southern Section canceled fall sports championships, the local football teams will still be playing for a Pacific League title.
“Even if it’s not a playoff spot, we have something to compete for,” Craven said. “It gives our guys something to be motivated about.”