Burbank Unified Employees Raise Concerns About School Return For Small Groups Before Vaccinations

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

Burbank Unified officials responded to concerns from employees about a potential return to in person education for small groups during the current Spring semester at the regular Board of Education meeting on Thursday, February 4.

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Burbank Unified School District has opened negotiations with employee unions to settle specifics required for a return to in-person education for small groups of students in high risk categories during the current semester and how and when to return for all students.

Louis Ayala, President of BUSD CSEA (California School Employees Association), which represents the custodial, facilities and office staff employees, spoke at length about the recent deaths from COVID that have directly impacted Classified employees and family members. Although none of those deaths were directly traced to infection from work, the prevalence of coronavirus infections and death from community transmission remains a concern.

Ayala raised concerns about how the District would regulate and mandate mask wearing by students. He also expressed Classified employee concerns that they would be required to return to work with students present before coronavirus vaccinations were available for them.

Mackenna Brooks, a Discrete Trial Training (DTT) specialist working with autistic students at David Starr Jordan Middle School, also raised concerns about the return to in-person education for special needs students.

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“At my school site, there were cohorts of struggling students set up to meet in the afternoon,” she said. “I have been told these cohorts were in place for three days before a student tested positive and as a result we have multiple administrators in quarantine.”

“We all know how scary it is to return to work during a pandemic and to work during a pandemic,” said Superintendent Matt Hill in response to the concerns. “First of all, I want to thank our CSEA employees that have been on the front lines, our food service workers, our child care workers, as well as our BTA [Burbank Teachers Association] workers.”

“We have had employees from the beginning of this pandemic working in person in services, whether it’s facilities, custodial, office managers, etc.,” he continued. “And what we’ve made a commitment as a school district is to have the proper guidelines, regulations, equipment, to keep our employees safe. We will continue to do that throughout this pandemic. We do not want to put our employees in harm’s way without the proper protocols, equipment and supports.”

“We have had some tragic loss that has impacted employees and their spouses,” Hill also said. “Based on the comments, it sounded like it was being referenced that employees were getting sick at work and taking that home or they got sick at work and passed away. And that did not happen. I want to be very clear on that.”

“Is it tragic? Yes. Is COVID real? Yes. Do we need to be thoughtful and make sure our employees are safe? Yes.”

“I don’t want to diminish the loss we experienced. But I don’t want anyone to leave this meeting thinking that we’ve had employees that got sick at work and pass away. Or that the employee who passed away, that he got it at work. He did not.”

“As far as vaccinations, we’re continuing to push for the governor and the county to give our employees vaccinations,” Hill added. “This is a nationwide issue of supplies. They are very limited. But we’re going to continue to advocate to make sure we get the vaccines we need. But, the equipment will be there. The training is there.”

“The student that does not wear a mask will not be invited to campus,” Hill stated. “They need to follow all the safety protocols, including mask wearing. If they refuse to wear the mask, the management will come in and support the DTT and make sure the child will be sent home.”

“We are looking at small cohorts of students so it can be managed. And, we’re looking at the students who have the highest needs. These are students who are unable to access their education at home and that’s why we’re looking at bringing them to have additional support.”

“The school district has been very deliberate and thoughtful about how and when we return students to campus,” Hill went on to say. “We want to make sure our students and our employees are safe. The proposal we have put in front of CSEA for this, from our standpoint, we believe we can make it safe.”

“So we want to continue to work with you to be able to implement this so we can serve more students and their educational needs.”

“I don’t want any of our employees to ever think that your health and safety is not of paramount importance to us. Of course, there’s a bargaining process involved. We’ve said all along, we’ve been trying to follow the science. And there are many reports coming out that we might be getting to the point that it might be safe to go back but we don’t just want to rush into that and we don’t want to throw our employees into a dangerous situation,” said President Steve Frinter. “We will do everything we can to protect the safety of our employees.”

The video and complete agenda, along with supplementary packets and documents, of the Burbank Board of Education meeting for February 4 can be found online here.

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