First published in the Sept. 24 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
With COVID-19 transmission rates declining and some concerns about the pandemic allayed as a result of vaccines and other treatments, the Burbank Unified School District recently aligned with local government agencies in easing coronavirus restrictions.
After hearing from stakeholders during a meeting Sept. 15, the Board of Education directed Superintendent Matt Hill to amend a policy that required students and adults to be vaccinated when attending overnight field trips. The revised policy will now allow unvaccinated students to participate but still requires adults to be inoculated.
“Moving a major institution through a pandemic is very difficult. It takes time,” said Board member Steve Ferguson. “This is because the state has not chosen to weigh in on vaccination policy as it relates to K-12 kids.”
More than a dozen BUSD parents and students spoke out against a district policy that blocked unvaccinated students from attending a weekend-long field trip at Overnight Science School, or OSS.
“My friends and I have been so excited to go to OSS, and now you are taking that opportunity away from us,” Delilah Powell, a 5th-grader at Bret Harte Elementary School, told BUSD board members.
The parents, echoing similar complaints in July regarding an overnight cheerleading trip, had already paid the non-refundable deposit required to attend the overnight camp. Some said they were willing to compromise by testing their children beforehand for the safety of the staff and other athletes.
“Sleeping at an overnight camp is not going to change whether or not they get any kind of virus, all it does is take some kids out of overnight activities and creates separation from their peers.” said Or Wever, who pointed out that the district could still require testing ahead of the trip.
The district responded with support for the public’s concerns but couldn’t vote to change the policy directly as it was not an agenda item for the meeting.
In a workaround, BUSD board members directed Superintendent Matt Hill to amend the policy to only require adults to be vaccinated when attending overnight field trips.
Hill ultimately agreed, taking additional measures to permit unvaccinated district fifth-graders to attend the OSS trip last weekend.
Members of the public broke out in applause.
“The state of California has basically said that vaccinations, as it comes to underage [kids], is a family decision,” Ferguson said.
Legislation in the state of California could only mandate vaccinations in schools if passed by a deadline of Aug. 31. However, the state issued no such mandates. This allowed for the district to dictate its own vaccination policy relating to overnight trips, which it will still need to clarify in the next BUSD meeting on Sept. 29.
Vaccinations are currently not required to attend Burbank schools.
OFFICIALS PONDER PANDEMIC END
Globally, weekly reported deaths from COVID-19 hit milestone lows last week, falling below March 2020 figures.
In response, the World Health Organization, or WHO, recently issued positive remarks over the state of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide. “We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a press event last week. “We are not there yet, but the end is in sight.”
U.S. President Joe Biden used more direct language in a “60 Minutes” interview broadcast on Sept. 18: “The pandemic is over,” he said.
Despite the president’s positive appraisal of COVID-related circumstances, Ghebreyesus amended his original statement during a meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York City on Thursday, Sept. 22. “Being able to see the end doesn’t mean we are at the end,” he said.
Ghebreyesus warned of the “ever-present risk of more dangerous variants emerging,” echoing WHO concerns over data transparency amid a worldwide decline in testing.