Burbank Unified Back To School Approach Looks Different For Fall 2020


Due to the COVID -19 pandemic, Burbank Unified’s reopening and back to school efforts, with the implementation of 100% distance learning, made the first day of school look very different for teachers, administrators, students and families for the start of the 2020-21 school year on Monday, August 17.

For the past several years, myBurbank staff photographer Ross Benson has accompanied Burbank Unified Superintendent Matt Hill as he would check in at the various school sites, usually visiting about 10 schools on the first day.

This year, on the first day, students logged in to their online classrooms from home and teachers welcomed their new students virtually in Google Meet or Zoom either from their homes or their otherwise empty classrooms at school sites.

McKinley Kindergarten teacher Kasey Palermo teaches her class remotely from school. (Photo Courtesy Liz Costella.)

Once BUSD decided in July to open Fall 2020 with 100% distance learning, the remaining summer weeks turned into a focused effort for teachers and staff alike to get up to speed with technology and remote learning.

“Our teachers and staff did an amazing job getting ready for the first week of the year,” commented Hill. “This is definitely going to be a challenging year, but everyone rallied together to support our students. We also appreciate the partnership with our parents as we navigate this new learning model.”

One of the benefits of the Measure S parcel tax bond passed in 2013 was the technology and infrastructure upgrades carried out over several years. The money raised from the bond measure allowed BUSD to upgrade wiring/cable and tech infrastructure at all school sites, which in the current environment of remote learning has proved almost prescient, while at the time the upgrades were simply viewed as bringing BUSD up to a current standard.

Burbank Unified has made a huge effort to get Chromebooks and hotspots into the hands of students and families who didn’t have the access to individual workstations or reliable access to the internet. The District has loaned out more than 1000 hotspots and 5000 Chromebooks to date and continues to work with families in need.

McKinley first grade teacher Lisa Fuentez works from her empty classroom. (Photo Courtesy Liz Costella.)

While the teachers and staff put in a lot of work to be prepared for remote learning, perhaps the biggest challenge facing the District and its students is the need for consistent, reliable internet access via devices that work up to current tech standards.

“Google Meet and Zoom have had periodic issues and we have experienced other technology glitches that our help desk is working through,” Hill also said. “Parents can call the help desk at (818) 729-3401.”

Emails detailing troubleshooting actions have been sent to all BUSD families over the past week, outlining steps to try and rectify tech issues.

Hill noted that Chromebooks and hotspots are still available for loan and encourages families in need to contact their school principal.

Another important aspect of school is access to Nutrition and Lunch, particularly for families who qualify for the Free and Reduced Lunch program. BUSD provides a week’s worth of Nutrition and Lunch, available for pickup from each school site on Fridays, for students who qualify for the program in addition to students whose families choose to purchase the meals.

Burbank’s William McKinley Elementary School yard is empty. Normally it’s filled with children for recess and activities. (Photo Courtesy Liz Costella.)

“In our first week of distribution, our participation was 1089 meal kits (10,890 meals),” said Hill. “Meal distribution will continue to be every Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Meals need to be picked up from the school site your student attends and pricing will be determined based on the meal benefits your student qualifies for. Families need to fill out an new meal application every school year.”

Approximately 35% of BUSD students qualify for the Free and Reduced Lunch program. The application can be found online at www.busdfoodservices.com.

“Families who qualify for Free benefits will not have to pay for these meals. Families who qualify for Reduced benefits will pay $3.50 per student/per week (.30 cents for each nutrition meal and .40 cents for each lunch meal),” explained Kathy Sessinghaus, Director of Food Services for BUSD.

“Families who do not qualify for benefits will need to pay full price for each meal. Elementary will pay $28.75 per student/ per week ($2.25 for each nutrition meal and $3.50 for each lunch meal),” she added. “Middle and High School will pay $31.25 per student/per week ($2.50 for each nutrition meal and $3.75 for each lunch meal.)”

Luther Burbank Middle School Principal Oscar Macias gears up for on site work at the school. (Photo Courtesy Oscar Macias.)

There has been a lot of concern voiced online in thought pieces and via social media, going into the new school year, over how students – particularly, the younger ones – will do with remote learning. While some parents have opted for homeschooling, hiring tutors for individual attention or creating small learning pods with other families for support, in general, most families have continued to stick with the Burbank Unified School District for education.

Overall, Burbank Unified’s enrollment is steady, according to Hill, at approximately 15,000 students throughout the District.

“We have fewer kindergarten students than projected, but we have enrolled more middle and high school students than expected,” he said.

Currently, Burbank Unified remains focused on providing 100% distance learning for its students’ education, while planning for an eventual return to in person education.

Burbank High AP Stats and Algebra I teacher Robert Hammell shows off his at home remote teaching setup. (Photo Courtesy Robert Hammell.)

“Reopening will depend on current health conditions and guidelines,” commented Hill. “Current guidelines require six feet of physical distancing, so when it is safe and appropriate to reopen we would phase in with a hybrid model.”

Hill noted in a recent Board of Education meeting that the District does not want to reopen schools only to have to shut them again with a resurgence of the COVID-19 virus. Thus, BUSD’s approach to reopening for in person education will be cautious and measured.

Remote learning will remain accessible for those students and families who wish to utilize that approach for the remainder of the ’20-21 school year, Hill said, even when a hybrid or fully open education model becomes available.

Burbank Unified is comprised of 11 elementary schools, three middle schools, three high schools including Monterey Continuation High School, along with the Horace Mann Child Care Center, Community Day School, Magnolia Park School, the Burbank Adult School and the Independent Learning Academy, an established online-only program. More information on the Burbank Unified School District can be found on their website.