Burbank Unified Remains On Distance Learning For Spring Semester

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

The Burbank Unified School District will remain on 100% Distance Learning for the entire Spring semester of 2021, following Superintendent Matt Hill’s Recommendation to the Board of Education at their regular meeting on Thursday, November 19.

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“Two weeks ago we talked at the Board meeting about reopening,” Hill said, referring to the school board meeting held on November 5. “And the reason we were talking about reopening for the last several weeks – in August and September we were dropping, with less than 900 cases a day.”

“When we sent out the commitment form in October, it looked like we were flattening out or actually declining in a place where we felt we’d hit that next tier, the red tier, by January. That’s why we were looking at reopening schools.”

“As we mentioned two weeks ago, we saw that uptick of cases and we were concerned,” Hill continued, in his report to the Board, about COVID stats in Los Angeles County. “Well, it’s tremendously above that number – 3944 yesterday, today was 5031 cases.”

“We are in the middle of a very serious surge of COVID cases across the world, across the country and definitely here in Los Angeles County. To be able to make the transition to a different learning model in January, we need to stabilize so we can do all the planning and be able to change schedules, change teachers, move to hybrid, move to distance. Right now it’s not feasible.”

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“There may be a better opportunity in the spring but we need to talk about how we keep that continuity of instruction,” he said.

Hill went over his recommendations for the Spring semester to the Board of Education:

  1. Remain in Distance Learning for the remainder of the school year.
  2. Based on health guidelines, bring special education students back for assessments and small group instruction.
  3. Develop and implement (based on health guidelines) intervention supports for students who are having academic challenges (Ds and Fs;1s and 2s)
  4. When space is available, provide seats for socio-economic disadvantaged students and foster and homeless youth at our expanded Around the Bell (ATB) program to help with learning loss.
  5. Continue athletics according to health guidelines (currently, only conditioning.)
  6. When health conditions improve, and in accordance with health guidelines, bring students back for extracurricular activities.

Returning to in-person education, following a half-population hybrid model is not realistic, Hill said. “Given the high case rates, given the complexity and uncertainty of changing our entire instructional model, we don’t feel that’s the best move right now.”

Hill’s recommendation is “to make a commitment to remain in distance learning for the rest of the school year, all the way through May.”

“But with that, we know we need to address specific needs of students. Everyone will keep their teachers and keep the distance learning model and we will keep working on improving that.”

Burbank Unified continues to work to bring back Special Education students in small groups, “for those that want to come back.”

Hill also acknowledged “that distance learning is not working for all students.”

While middle and high school principals have been doing virtual interventions, Hill would like to see those principals, along with elementary school principals, develop ideas to bring some students on campus for intervention and support, if health conditions allow.

Hill also mentioned the idea of learning pods for some elementary students, particularly developing those through the Around the Bell program and his expectation of the District making spaces available for socio-economically disadvantaged students in January.

Athletics conditioning will continue, he noted and he anticipates being able to bring groups of students on to campus in the Spring for extra-curricular activities as health conditions allow.

“I do think, as we’ve seen the numbers increasing just in the last two weeks, and following public health experts and what they’re anticipating… the prospect of the numbers decreasing doesn’t look promising,” acknowledged Board Vice President Steven Frintner. “I think this is a good model for us moving forward into the second semester.”

“This is a good model,” said Board member Dr. Roberta Reynolds. “I can speak to what’s happening in the health community. Hospitalizations are indeed increasing, doubling in the last week or so… looking to where this is going, it’s going to continue to increase.”

Reynolds discussed an overview of the two current vaccines being prepared, noting that it may take about six months for the effects of a viable vaccine to be noticed in slowing or stopping the pandemic.

“This is the safest way forward,” commented Board member Steve Ferguson.

Board member Charlene Tabet agreed that the plan is fine, but she wondered if BUSD has looked at adding in the fifth day – Friday – for synchronous learning, mentioning the higher numbers of Ds and Fs after the 10-week grades report and lower attendance on Fridays.

The negotiations team of staff and teachers have started discussing that and are considering changes to the current MOU (Memo of Understanding agreement between the teachers’ union and BUSD), Hill answered.

“Our teachers have been fantastic, adjusting their teaching strategies,” Hill added.

Nadaly Jones, Student Board Representative from John Burroughs High School, wondered if there’s “any way for seniors to go back to school?”

“It’s really hard to be motivated,” she said, “not being able to go to school.”

Burbank High School Student Board Representative Carmen Blanchard asked if students may be able to meet their teachers or have short social meetings later in the spring, something for seniors to look forward to.

Hill replied that he was planning to brainstorm with the three ASB (Associated Student Body) school board reps, to have some safe events for seniors on campus, maybe a “senior week.”

“It’s our mission to celebrate you [seniors],” commented Ferguson. He suggested planning for some events that could happen in six months, particularly for the seniors.

While health conditions really depend on the ability of the country, the state and the county to control the coronavirus, Hill and the Board emphasized that maintaining behaviors to reduce the spread of the virus while potentially effective vaccines roll out over the coming months, could really help health conditions reach a point where students could return to campuses for smaller, socially distanced events in the spring.

The Burbank Board of Education agreed to the Superintendent’s Recommendation. Burbank Unified will remain on 100% Distance Learning for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. Efforts are being made to increase social engagement for all ages, particularly as health conditions may allow later in the spring of 2021.

Mental health support, which is typically available in person at school wellness centers, is available for BUSD students online. Virtual counseling sessions are available through Burbank Unified’s contracted mental health partner, Family Service Agency. Hill encouraged any student needing to talk with a counselor contact the FSA at 818-845-7671 to arrange a virtual support meeting.

The video and complete agenda of the Burbank Board of Education meeting for November 19 can be found online here.

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 online on their webpage.

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