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West Orange Times & Observer Tuesday, Sep. 1, 2020 3 weeks ago

Culture canceled: What was OCPS thinking?

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In any other year, you’d think the school district's decision to exclude marching bands and cheerleaders from football games was a joke.
by: Michael Eng Editor and Publisher

You would think we’d have learned by now: Conventional wisdom doesn’t apply to 2020.

So of course, Orange County Public Schools would decide football — which requires not only physical contact but also physical contact among students from different schools — is safe to play, while marching band, dance teams, cheerleading and JROTC are not. 

In any other year, you’d think this was a joke. But trust me when I tell you: No one is laughing.

OCPS presented its latest comedy of errors in two acts. The first — which outlined stadium-capacity limitations and the exclusion of marching bands, cheerleaders, dance teams and JROTC squads — had thousands of parents looking for Ashton Kutcher and the “Punk’d” camera crew.

Following a brief intermission, OCPS delivered its second decision directly to parents and coaches: Football players will be restricted from face-to-face instruction and must choose either to take online classes or be quarantined in a campus “bubble,” where they will take classes via OCPS’ “innovative” [email protected]@SchoolBubble (patent pending).

There are so many tendrils to this specimen of ridiculousness that it makes you wonder: How did we get here? And seriously, is this a joke?

But then you remember: Oh yeah, 2020. And you recall, just mere weeks ago, the circus sideshow OCPS performed to determine how and when the 2020-21 school year would begin. Parents were given one starting date (Aug. 10), then another (Aug. 21). And then, once parents adapted to the new start date, OCPS uttered a collective, “Psych! School will start Aug. 10, after all. Oops. Our bad. But remember: We said fluid!”

Now, we have the district’s Friday Night Lights rulings — its most embarrassing conclusions yet. 

That second decision — the one about the football players not being able to take face-to-face classes — was relayed Friday, Aug. 28. With players set to begin practice Monday, Aug. 31, that gave families no time to provide input or present alternatives. Perhaps by design?

At first glance, the decision seems to have merit. If successful, it could minimize exposure between football players and the rest of the student body. And the NBA, MLS and NHL all have used the bubble successfully.

However, what OCPS failed to realize is that its football bubble will pop at the end of every single school day. What happens when the players leave campus? What happens when they return home to their family members — none of whom have been bubble-fied? What happens when they go to their part-time job at Publix? 

And amazingly, that’s the lesser of these evils! 

Let’s dive into the mandates regarding who will be allowed at these football games. According to OCPS Chief of High Schools Dr. Harold Border, the district will cap attendance at 312 people per game. And how did the district arrive at this number, you ask? According to Border, 312 is 25% capacity of the district’s most-common stadium size. This is the number that will be used regardless of actual stadium size. Sorry, West Orange Warriors and Dr. Phillips Panthers fans: Despite Raymond Screws Stadium’s 6,000 capacity and Bill Spoone Stadium seating 6,600, you, too, will be capped at 312.

And last, but certainly not least, we arrive to the inexplicable blanket rejection of marching bands, cheerleaders, dance teams and JROTC squads at Friday night games. Instead, the district is once again “innovating” — this time by suggesting these groups perform at a pep rally the night before each game. That event then could be viewed the next day during lunch or on the scoreboard at the games. O … K … But has anyone at the district considered the equipment, time, resources, skill and budget needed to produce something watchable — especially if said performances are to be screened on a scoreboard in the end zone?

However, technical limitations aside, that “solution” ignores the district’s most important job: educating students to become contributing members of our community. Like football players, many student musicians and dancers seek scholarships. Every artist knows there is a difference between performing for a video camera and a live audience. The decision to take away the opportunity to perform in front of people will change the trajectory of some students’ futures. 

The district responded to this concern — via a press release written in first person but without a name. And it’s easy to see why: Who would want to claim ownership of these words?

“To my knowledge, there are no scholarships that directly result from a student being recognized for their accomplishments in marching band,” the author wrote. 

This OCPS leader would have you believe participation in marching band does nothing to make a student a better musician, leader and human being (and thus a more qualified candidate for scholarships). And a quick Google search will reveal dozens upon dozens of (gasp!) marching band scholarships.   

When parents pressed Border for the process of arriving at these decisions, he said district leaders collaborated with school principals and studied decisions made by universities and professional leagues. He said they also examined decisions by other school districts. But apparently, those didn’t include their closest neighbors.

According to Osceola County School District Public Information Officer Dana Shafer, Osceola stadiums will have 50% capacity, masks required. Cheerleaders will be socially distanced. The home team marching bands will perform on the track behind one of the end zones.

To the northeast, Seminole County Public Schools Communications Officer Michael Lawrence said groups such as marching bands, cheerleaders, JROTC and others will be allowed to participate on a limited basis. 

Some West Orange-area parents have offered their own suggestions —  all of which are better than the one-size-suits-all rubbish OCPS shoveled down our collective throats.

Although decisions OCPS’ leaders face often have no right answers, they do have less-wrong ones. And perhaps, if they return students to the center of the decision-making process, they can arrive at conclusions they won’t feel compelled to reveal at the last possible second; through statements with no attribution; or reinforce with questionable rationale.

Michael Eng is the editor and publisher for the West Orange Times & Observer, West Orange Observer, Baldwin Park Living magazine and OrangeObserver.com. He is a 2000 graduate of the University of Missouri — Columbia School of Journalism....

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