Without Vaccine, BUSD Staff Raise Concerns on Campus Return

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.
“This is the reason why I’m here [at the meeting], because it’s time for me to speak up on behalf of our members,” he said. “We’re not sheep that are going to go into the slaughter. We are your coworkers.”
Superintendent Matt Hill — who said he hoped to bring back small cohorts of high-need students to Burbank campuses — empathized with Ayala and said staff had done everything it could to provide a safe environment for all workers.
“First of all, I know and we all know how scary it is to think about returning to work during a pandemic and to work during a pandemic,” he said. “We made a commitment to have proper guidelines, regulations and equipment to keep our employees safe. We will continue to do that during this pandemic.”
Board member Steve Ferguson echoed Hill and assured that all employees are essential.
“I can understand a lot of the fear,” he said. “Every single employee here, no matter the role, is critical to students’ success. Every employee matters. Eventually, we have to get back to school and that comes with a scary leap, but that’s not one that we are necessarily ill-prepared for.”
Ayala insinuated that employees were possibly infected while working and taking that to their homes, which would impact their families. Hill stressed that it did not happen.
“I don’t want to diminish the loss that we’ve experienced, but I don’t want anyone to leave this meeting thinking that we’ve had employees that got sick at work come home and had their spouses get sick and pass away or an employee that passed away got it at work.”
Hill expressed his own frustration with politicians and the scarcity of vaccines for school employees.
“The state has made a clear vaccine plan,” he said. “They said they’re focused on health care workers. Great. Then they said they’re focusing on people 65 years and older. Great. Then they say educators. Don’t say you’re focused on educators and not give us the vaccine. Don’t tell us to open schools and not give us the vaccine. Your actions have to match your words.”
The negotiations between BUSD and CSEA resumed Friday, and Hill says he believes that the proposal in place “can make it safe” for employees.