It was a long road to get there, but the Burbank Unified School District officially welcomed back students for limited in-person instruction at all grade levels on Monday.
The milestone attracted a television news van and media photographers, as well Board of Education President Steve Frintner, who had not visited any of the BUSD school sites since they shut down last March.
“We really did miss students and teachers,” said Frintner, who visited Joaquin Miller Elementary School on Monday. “As a board member, and my other board members would agree, one of the things we enjoy most of the position is being at the school and seeing the interaction between the students and teachers.”
Superintendent Matt Hill stood with Miller Elementary Principal Judy Hession at the main entrance, eagerly waiting for younger students to arrive.
“It’s fantastic,” said an enthusiastic Hill. “You can see it and feel it with all the employees. That energy is back.”
It certainly was palpable on an overcast day in Burbank. Even with masks, one could see the smiles on parents’ faces as they crossed the street to drop off their children.
Alex Ramos walked his son Landon to one of the check-in stations at Miller on Monday and made sure to use his phone to record every second of it.
“He was already telling us how he wanted to see his friends and asking when he would go to school,” Ramos said of his son. “It’s not even about all of the problems right now with COVID. It’s just about the interactions with the kids for us. He now gets to mingle with the kids and be in the same room. It’s beneficial. Kids need interactions with other kids.”
Ramos initially doubted the district’s reopening plans but was impressed how quickly BUSD turned things around.
“For a little while, I was wondering what was going on, but a week or two later, emails popped up on our screen and they got things in order,” Ramos said. “There was a lot of doubt and questions, but everything started to fall into place, and here we are. Hopefully this will continue and expand to more days [on campus] and hopefully we’ll be in the normal in six months or so.”
Crossing guard Larry Nelson echoed Ramos and was just glad to see kids and parents again.
“It’s fantastic because socialization and one-on-one education is important. You can’t take it away. That’s what kids need,” said Nelson, who is in his fifth year as Miller Elementary’s crossing guard. “It’s a miracle they got it done.”
It took 13 months’ worth of hard work and planning to accomplish a reopening that complied with local and state health guidelines. Hill couldn’t help but laugh when asked how many schedules he and his staff evaluated in the process.
“Oh, man. I couldn’t even estimate,” Hill said. “It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been taking all the precautions and being safe. Now we can see as a community that we’re following the protocols, and the number [of COVID-19 cases] are dropping. Now we can take that next step to normalcy.”
Hill arrived at Miller Elementary on Monday and felt that normalcy well before students arrived on campus, interacting with all employees who make each school special.
“I’ve visited campuses during the pandemic, but when they’re empty and you don’t have your employees and students there, it’s just different,” Hill said. “It’s just a building. Now with everyone back, it’s a school again.”