Burbank Board Of Education Hears Feedback On Reopening Plan

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Burbank Unified School District office. (Photo By Ross Benson)

At their most recent regular meeting on Thursday, November 5, the Burbank Board of Education heard results of a recent survey which asked families to choose between hybrid in-person learning or distance learning, if schools were permitted by Los Angeles County Public Health to re-open for in-person education.

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Conducted during the third week of October, the survey offered two options – hybrid or distance. Distance learning would be different depending on students grade level. For K-5, distance learning would be similar to the current remote learning model, but with a dedicated teacher and students’ teachers would most likely change.

For students in grades 7-12, distance learning would be administered though the Independent Learning Academy (ILA), which does not have live teaching, only a once weekly meeting with an education manager. Classes are taught one at a time and students have 22 days to complete one class. For students in grade six, a BUSD teacher would be dedicated to supervising the APEX curriculum that ILA uses, following a similar schedule as upper grades.

Several parents and students addressed the Board during Public Comments to express frustration with the limited choice, asking for the current Distance Learning model to be available as a third option.

The negotiated contract with teachers, finalized at the beginning of the Fall semester, allows for Burbank Unified School District teachers to employ either hybrid or distance learning as the teaching model, not both at the same time.

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However, with the recent spike in COVID-19 infections throughout Los Angeles County, a return to in-person education looks doubtful. For schools to be permitted to open, L.A. County would need to move up from the purple tier to the red tier and remain in that tier for several weeks. The County remains in the purple tier with infection numbers increasing.

Superintendent Matt Hill went over the family survey for the Board. For elementary schools, 52% of respondents indicated a preference for hybrid learning, while 48% chose distance learning. Hill noted that 84% of families responded. Those that did not respond were placed in the hybrid model, so the actual split is closer to 60% hybrid and 40% distance.

Families also indicated a lot of concern about the likelihood of teachers changing for the new semester, he noted.

For secondary schools, 70% of families chose hybrid and 30% picked ILA/APEX. However, Hill noted that he, the Board and senior District staff had received many, many emails indicating frustration with the limited choice and a large number of families who wished the current distance learning model, being taught by BUSD teachers, would remain available.

“We heard loud and clear a lot of families would prefer to stay in the current distance learning,” Hill said. “We feel 70% is an inflated number because people did not want ILA.”

Parents and students also expressed a high preference for keeping current teachers and schedules, he noted.

Hill also mentioned that Fall athletes are allowed to begin outside conditioning as of Monday, November 9, per County health regulations. District staff continue to work on plans to return special education students for small group work.

He also asked the Board for guidance on the TK-2 waiver process. Because BUSD has 11 elementary schools, it could take some time for all elementary schools to receive permission to open for TK-2, and BUSD would wait until all schools received waivers to open the programs.

If schools are permitted to open for TK-2, learning would still be a hybrid model requiring masks and social distancing, which would be challenging to maintain for that age group.

Board member Charlene Tabet asked District staff how they could better support TK-2 students if the District were to remain on 100% Distance Learning for the Spring semester. She expressed concern those students may be missing importance benchmarks for early education.

If the Board of Education decides to remain on 100% Distance Learning, with the current model, for the Spring semester, BUSD would most likely continue that model for the entire semester. Switching mid-semester to the hybrid/ILA model would be even more disruptive to students’ education than at the semester break, Hill said. 

Hill will present the next update on the possible reopening of schools at the November 19 Board of Education meeting. After much discussion, Board members indicated a likeliness to decide at that meeting whether schools will re-open for in-person education.

While the Board had planned to make the decision at the December 17 meeting, several Board members indicated a desire to decide sooner rather than later, to allow families and employees more time to plan.

Board members also indicated support for a plan to remain on the current distance learning model for Spring semester, with the possibility of opening up campuses to small clubs and activities if health conditions improve during the semester. Perhaps conditions could improve enough for BUSD to hold outdoor graduations.

Board member Steve Ferguson also mentioned a report they had received, that the number of Ds and Fs had gone up by 50%. He emphasized more efforts should be made to connect with those students who are struggling and provide supports and interventions during the Spring semester.

The Burbank Board of Education also voted during the meeting to amend graduation criteria for the Class of 2021, waiving the 10 services hours typically required. Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services John Paramo told the school board that some students were having trouble completing the service learning component during the ongoing pandemic.

The video and complete agenda of the Burbank Board of Education meeting for November 5 can be found online on their website.

The Burbank Board of Education is comprised of President Dr. Armond Aghakhanian, Vice President Steve Frintner, Clerk Charlene Tabet, and members Dr. Roberta Reynolds and Steve Ferguson. More information on the Board can be found on their website.

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