Burbank Unified Outlines Plans For Possible Return To In-Person Instruction

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

Burbank Unified officials presented plans and procedures that have been developed over the past six months for a possible return to in-person instruction in a virtual Q&A session held on Wednesday evening, October 21.

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District staff outlined differences between hybrid and distance learning options, answered questions from parents, and went over a host of protocols developed with attention to Los Angeles County Public Health, State and CDC guidelines.

The District will email commitment forms to each student’s family or caregivers on Friday, October 23, asking each student to choose between hybrid or distance learning for the Spring semester.

It still is not clear when, if at all, BUSD will be able to return to in-person instruction at school sites. That determination depends on L.A. County Health metrics and guidelines, which so far, L.A. County does not yet meet.

In fact, Superintendent Matt Hill mentioned during the meeting that Riverside County was preparing to go back to in-person instruction when their COVID-19 numbers jumped back up and now those plans are on hold. Hill has said several times at Burbank Board of Education meetings over recent months that BUSD does not want to reopen schools only to have to close them again.

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“We are remaining in Distance Learning for this current semester,” Hill also stated during Wednesday’s meeting. “What we are looking at is planning. Tonight we are going to provide information on ‘what-ifs.’ What if health conditions get better? What could hybrid look like? What would Distance Learning look like?”

“We’re going to plan on scenarios but wait to decide,” Hill said, stressing the importance of families returning their choice for future learning scenarios so that once District officials have data on the numbers of students for each learning model, they can make clearer plans and prepare better.

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

Hybrid learning would see secondary students rotate through half their schedule (three periods) for half a day (either mornings or afternoons) Monday through Thursday, with Friday being a full day of 100% Distance Learning, similar to the current Distance Learning Fridays utilizing office hours for students to connect with their teachers. Students’ teachers might change.

Sports will return but with strict guidelines. After school clubs would be permitted but also required to follow protocols.

For elementary students, classes would be divided in half for morning or afternoon sessions. Their day would include a short movement break although playground equipment may remain closed.

Distance learning would be administered through the Independent Learning Academy (ILA) once hybrid is available. Students’ teachers would most likely change, as that model uses APEX curriculum and there is no live teaching. Students would engage with their APEX manager once per week. Students must make a semester commitment to the program.

The ILA program typically sees students focus on one subject at a time, which must be completed within 22 days. There are very limited AP or Honors classes with that model. Some students are able to use ILA for academic work and then may take up to two electives at their home school.

Although ILA is accredited for grades 7 – 12, its courses are not approved by the NCAA so it is not an option for student athletes. Sixth graders will have the option of following grade level APEX curriculum with a teacher from their home school assigned.

Distance learning for elementary students would remain the same as the current model but students may have a new teacher.

Once Dual Immersion students make their choice between hybrid and distance, and District officials look at the numbers for each model, then they anticipate discussing learning model options with those families.

BUSD officials will hold a specific online meeting for Special Education students on Tuesday, October 27, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

January would be the earliest possible chance for a return to in-person instruction, but District officials also emphasized that BUSD may not be able to return to in-person at all in the Spring semester. L.A. County Public Health will determine when and if schools will be allowed to reopen.

Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services Debbie Kukta outlined what school operations would look like with a return to hybrid, on campus instruction. She discussed Technology Support protocols for teachers and students, reminding those in need of technical support that the BUSD Help Desk will remain available.

Kukta went over Health and Safety protocols for the facilities, noting how often certain areas would be cleaned and sanitized and which cleaning products would be used. High touch areas would be cleaned frequently.

She also discussed that BUSD would continue with remote pickup of a week’s worth of meals for students on Fridays, noting that the USDA will provide free meals to all public school students for the remainder of the ’20-’21 school year.

BUSD has already bought personal folding shields for fourth- and fifth-graders and are planning to purchase the shields for all secondary students. The shields would be disinfected in between classes or cohorts with a spray, which students would then wipe off upon entering the classroom.

Each classroom will be stocked with a cleaning kit, so students will have access to wipes and other items to clean their desks.

Kukta also talked about the importance of improving ventilation which can be done, weather permitting, by opening windows and doors. She noted the HVAC system will help with ventilation as well and although the units currently use a standard filter, there is discussion that a needlepoint bi-polar ionization attachment may be fitted to each unit which would ionize and disinfect the air as it comes out and enters the room.

Principals have already walked their school sites and determined flow routes and the BUSD Print Shop has printed stickers to help with visual reminders and cues.

Stacy Cashman, Director of Student Services, also detailed the efforts officials have been working on since March, when schools were closed due to the pandemic. Each school has a COVID compliance team comprised of the site principal, custodian, nurse, staff and teachers. Every school has a plan for social distancing and health protocols that fit each site’s unique layout.

Plans for returning to school include temperature checks on students as they enter, required face coverings and physical distancing.

Cashman is working with BUSD Health Services and Facilities to make sure safety plans are implemented at each school. L.A. County Public Health official have started visiting BUSD school sites to check on each plan and provide feedback on improving procedures.

Restrooms will be limited as to capacity and use staggered, but students will have access to restrooms if needed.

Schools plan to have multiple entrance and exit points, with monitors, so as to help students socially distance.

Lenora Aguilera, the head nurse at John Burroughs High School, went over health protocols during the online meeting.

“Any student or staff member with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 may not come to school or work sites,” she emphasized.

Each school site has created two separate areas for health care – one where students or staff with COVID symptoms can be isolated from others, and one where typical health care needs can be addressed.

Aguilera went over steps the health office would follow should someone present with COVID symptoms. Students would be asked to contact a health care provider to assess or get tested and work with the school nurse to discuss a required isolation or quarantine period. The school may require a 10-14 day period away from school, depending on the results of a COVID test.

If someone at the school site tests positive for COVID-19, those in close contact would be notified and required to quarantine for 14 days and contact their health provider.

If an entire class has to be quarantined for 14 days, “we would move the class to distance learning,” explained Hill. “If it is just a student, they would receive an excused absence and work with the teacher to make up their work.”

“Please don’t send your children to school if they are symptomatic,” said Aguilera, noting symptoms include cough and runny nose, which can be related to other respiratory illnesses.

Aguilera emphasized that frequent handwashing, use of face coverings and physical distancing will remain very important for all students and staff to maintain.

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services John Paramo also talked about the partnership of the District with Family Service Agency in Burbank to support mental health and wellness needs for students, families and staff.

BUSD is in the process of updating their website with more answers to the nearly 500 questions staff received during the Q&A Session. The efforts to plan for re-opening schools will continue and District officials plan to give an update in December.

The video recording of the Q&A Session is available to view online. The PowerPoint presentation on re-opening can be watched online as well. District staff have also made a short video on specifics of the Hybrid model learning protocols and a return to in-person instruction.

More information on BUSD’s COVID-19 response and plans to re-open schools can be found on their website.

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