Not long after the Los Angeles public school system announced it will begin the school year with distance learning, Burbank Unified School District Superintendent Matt Hill made a similar declaration via Facebook Live on Monday, telling the local community that the district made the “difficult decision to go with 100% online learning.”
Hill cited safety as a primary concern, and follows suit with a slew of other districts who have opted for distance learning, including those in Glendale, Pasadena, San Bernardino and San Diego. Los Angeles County’s infection rate among people who have been tested is 9%, and a record 4,592 new cases and 2,173 hospitalizations were reported on Thursday.
“I know these are frustrating and challenging times,” Hill said Monday. “We get new information every single day. … But we are seeing a dramatic spike in COVID cases in Los Angeles County.
“For example, gyms have been following amazing, strict guidelines with masks at all times — gloves, social distancing, 6 feet apart, limiting people in the gym — and now they have to close again. … If a gym cannot even guarantee the safety of its clientele, if a restaurant can’t do that, how can we with a clear conscience do that right now at the school district? The answer we came up with is no, we can’t.”
Staff presented an update on the distance learning model during a BUSD Board of Education meeting on Thursday. The school board is expected to confirm the policy announced by Hill, but details regarding instruction this fall remain scarce because of ongoing negotiations with the Burbank Teachers Association.
However, Hill and staff members did assure parents that the faculty will be better prepared for the upcoming semester and provide the quality education Burbank students are used to receiving. There will be a better balance of video instruction and teachers will check in with students more often.
“That is something that we know we need to make sure, that we are flexible, too, to teacher and parent needs,” Hill said. “How do we have strong parameters for quality education that supports and respects our teachers, but also how do we understand the unique circumstances at home? And that’s what we’re talking about through negotiations, to find that right balance.”
As details about instruction in the fall emerge, the district will post information on its website.
“It is my hope that together we will all get through this difficult time and find the way to rise,” teachers association President Diana Abasta said during the meeting. “BTA members are already working hard to prepare for the preparation of the absolute best rigorous and robust program we can humanly offer to all of our 15,000 students. Distance learning will begin on Aug. 17. I would encourage our parents to start working on routines to help our students transition back to school successfully. We miss our students tremendously. We want them to know that one day when it is deemed safe we will be there for them at our [school] sites.”
Despite the decision, staff is fine-tuning the details of a hybrid model — blending on-campus instruction with remote learning — should health guidelines allow students to return to campus.
Board Presents Anti-Racism Policy
The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee presented its first reading of the anti-racism policy that will be added to the district’s Board Policies and Administrative Regulations.
Under the leadership of BUSD board President Armond Aghakhanian and member Steve Ferguson, the committee was launched a year ago and has since been expanded to work on the board’s policies and diversify the district’s curriculum by including ethnic studies and text from people of color.
Not many school districts have such a policy, and Hill said he was “excited” about the future of this possibly “groundbreaking” policy.
“This must be the fabric of BUSD,” he said. “It’s not just a committee; it’s not just a policy. It’s who we are and what we do.
Ferguson echoed Hill’s statement and added that this is a conversation the board needed to have and must continue.
“We got to play some catch-up,” he said. “And I think we’re going to continue to work with this committee to continue to drive the kind of conversations that make our school sites a place where anyone can walk on and feel like they belong, and feel like they can contribute and grow and thrive. This is a first step towards that. I expect many more along the way.”
BURROUGHS MASCOT CHANGE COMING SOON
BUSD officials didn’t shy away from the controversy surrounding the John Burroughs High School mascot. The school’s teams are known as the Indians, and a recent petition that gathered hundreds of signatures said that the mascot is outdated and racist.
In response to public comments presented via Zoom for the first time since the coronavirus shutdown, Hill notified the community that it is an “important conversation” and the decision will be left to the Associated Student Body. The district is working with administrators to educate the students about the process of changing a mascot. The superintendent added that the process will hopefully be “expedited” and not “drag on all year.”
“I think it’s [a conversation] so important that our students are empowered to have that conversation and be a part of that decision to be able to have a mascot that unifies them, that means something to them,” board member member Roberta Reynolds said. “I look forward to the work that they’re going to do. I have a great deal in confidence in our students.”