Burbank Unified Plans Limited Reopening For All Grades On April 12

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

The Burbank Teachers Association and the Burbank Unified School District have made a tentative agreement that the limited reopening of school for all grades TK-12 will be on Monday, April 12, according to Superintendent Matt Hill. Approximately one-third of the school population, 4880 students, have responded that they will return to in person education next month.

“We will meet on March 29 to finalize the details, but we have reached an agreement that the morning will stay in Distance Learning and the afternoons will be in-person,” Hill said in an email sent to BUSD students, families and employees on Friday, March 19. “At all traditional sites, the students who are opting to participate in the hybrid model will be on campus twice a week in A and B cohorts.”

“The principals will be determining cohorts based on a variety of factors and will be communicating your specific cohort in the future. More details will be shared the week of March 29. In the meantime, we are excited to return students to campus and still support our students who remain 100% in distance learning.”

Burbank Unified is on Spring Break from Monday, March 22, through Friday, March 26.

Approximately 20 Burbank Unified teachers and staff members expressed concerns about the pace and the plans for reopening at the Thursday evening, March 18, Board of Education meeting, during a nearly two hour long public comment period.

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Several teachers and some of the students who spoke during public comments also expressed their grief for the recent death of well-loved BUSD employee, Esme Hernandez, from Covid-19 on March 6. The Board of Education meeting opened with a remembrance of Hernandez and was adjourned in her honor.

One concern expressed by BUSD teachers was equity for all students, particularly those who chose to remain in distance learning for the remainder of the semester, approximately two-thirds of the student population. Teachers will focus afternoon time on students who chose in person support and questions have arisen regarding asynchronous learning and teacher access in the afternoons for students who remain in distance learning.

Another common concern was that not all teachers and staff will have been fully vaccinated after receiving their last shot, even with opening on April 12, because the recommended two weeks will not have elapsed. Several teachers worried about family members at home who are not yet eligible for the vaccine, among other concerns.

Community criticism of teachers’ concerns about returning to in person teaching during the ongoing pandemic was also discussed.

“i know there’s going to be a lot of discussion tonight about reopening and I wanted to speak up about a problem that goes beyond just the simple ‘should we or shouldn’t we.’ What is a stronger concern for me is a very public and very hurtful rhetoric being used towards educators who are making very challenging personal decisions for their own safety and well being,” commented BUSD teacher and parent Lucia Bowers. “I know that this is just a small group of people who feel this way… No matter your opinion on reopening, returning to a physical classroom space is a very emotional, personal choice and one that has different ramifications for each individual.”

“It is a choice that we allow every parent and student in this district to make without comment but for some reason we don’t do that when it comes to our teachers and educators,” Bowers continued. “Since the reopening discussion began, some community members have expressed the opinion that teachers who do not feel comfortable returning to school are lazy, that we don’t care about kids, that we don’t care about mental health, that we flat out just don’t want to work.”

“Some even claim that distance learning is somehow easier than teaching in person and that this last year has been some sort of vacation for us while we work at home. This could not be farther from the truth. From the moment we were informed about distance learning almost exactly one year ago, BUSD educators have worked around the clock to give quality instruction to BUSD students.”

“The job of pandemic education is so much harder, the hours are infinite and the expectations are so much greater. Yet the pay remains the same and the kindness, which is one of the most rewarding things about teaching, also seems to be diminishing,” she said.

“My message tonight is, regardless of how you feel about reopening, educators are NOT the problem. We have been part of the solution since day one and will continue to be part of it until this is over,” Bowers emphasized. “Whether that’s through the screen at a distance or in a physical school building, our teachers and staff remain professional, dedicated and invested in all of our students.”

“I’ve heard so many people say it’s the teachers’ union that is stopping schools from reopening. That is simply untrue. It’s not the teachers’ union, it’s Covid-19 that’s stopping schools from fully reopening.”

“It’s discouraging to hear people redirect their frustrations over the pandemic towards our educators,” Bowers added. “In order to move forward in a productive manner, we all need to start with mutual respect and understanding. We should not view each other as the enemy. It is all of us working together against Covid-19 that is going to get us through this crisis.”

“This should not be a topic we demonize each other or get upset with other opinions on this,” said Hill in response, at the March 18 meeting. “There’s a lot of different perspectives as we navigate this pandemic.”

“I greatly appreciate the conversations tonight because I do feel everyone came across sharing their perspective and how they feel about it and want to make sure we understood that,” Hill continued. “That is something we’ve been striving for the whole year… making sure that we continually hear voices so we can find that solution so that we can meet the needs of all students.”

“Our teachers have done an amazing job,” he added. “I want to thank our teachers and staff for all that they’ve done. At the same time, it’s acknowledged that distance learning is working well for some students but not all. Four thousand, eight hundred eighty students have said they need in person support.”

“Safety precautions will be our number one priority,” Hill also said, noting Los Angeles County Public Health has some of the strictest guidelines in the country.

Negotiations are still ongoing with the Burbank Teachers Association, Hill clarified, while emphasizing that many of the teachers’ concerns will be worked out as talks are finalized.

Burbank Unified will lose approximately 1% of the one-time Safe Schools For All funds approved by the Governor and the State Legislature for every school day they are not open after April 1, according to EdSource. BUSD anticipated being able to receive approximately $4.5 million from the State if they opened by April 1.

In the letter home to families and employees, Hill included links to many frequently asked questions:

The letter also linked to current L.A. County Department of Public Health Protocols:

Current travel restrictions were also highlighted for those who plan to travel during Spring Break:

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s current advisory regarding travel: a 10-day quarantine is required after return to Los Angeles County after traveling outside California, even if with a negative COVID-19 test. The above advisories apply regardless of an individual’s vaccination status.

“There’s no possible way that I… or any of the Board would put money ahead of the lives of our BUSD family,” commented Board member and private school teacher Emily Weisberg, in response to teachers’ concerns at the March 18 meeting. “I understand first hand the anxiety… I know the number of hours I spend every day is quadruple the number of hours I’ve ever spent, revising lessons, talking to parents, responding to emails, adjusting curriculum… we know the work you are putting in and it does not go unnoticed.”

“We’ve been following the science, we’ve been following the data. And when that changed, we changed,” she added. “And we looked for a way to accommodate and reach out to our students who have been struggling in distance learning.”

“Am I frustrated that the State kind of dangled money in front of us? Sure, we all are. It’s not ideal. It sort of felt like blackmail,” Weisberg also said. “But that’s not why we did it. We did it because it’s time to go back. One of the important things to remember about the money we are going to receive is that it helps us keep class sizes reduced, it helps us keep teachers in the classroom, it helps us with intervention, it helps us with summer school.”

“We’re going back because it’s the right time to do it because science tells us it’s the right time because the CDC, even though they’re changing parameters and… protocols, it seems by the minute, says it’s safe to do so. That’s why,” she said.

Weisberg noted that while there remain “a million” questions to be sorted out with returning to schools, “We might not have the answers today, but we will have them.”

“We’re all in this boat together, so let’s figure out how to row it forward so that our students get the best we can give them in the safest way possible and make that the important focus,” Board Vice President Charlene Tabet said.

“We know how hard our teachers have worked this year. Our teachers, our classified staff, our principals, our administration have worked this year to provide the best education we can to the students of our district,” Board President Steve Frintner said.

More information about the reopening of Burbank schools will be forthcoming from the district after March 29.

The video and complete agenda of the Burbank Board of Education meeting for March 18 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.

MT