In-person instruction began Friday, Aug. 21, for the roughly 30% of Orange County Public Schools students who chose to return to campus.
For the first time since March 13, Orange County Public Schools welcomed students and staff back to campuses in person Aug. 21.
All 212,000 OCPS students officially had their first day of school Aug. 10 via [email protected], the district’s innovative-learning model.
However, last Friday, about 30% of students returned for face-to-face instruction.
Things look different on campus than in years past. Students and staff are required to wear a mask on all school buses and campuses and when walking to and from school, and social distancing is a must. Some areas, such as reception desks, now have Plexiglas barriers, and student desks and work areas are spaced out as much as possible.
Then, there are particular arrival and dismissal procedures. Parents and nonessential visitors cannot enter the school past the main office, and many schools have implemented staggered entry and release protocols.
Although the various new COVID-19 policies in place may present a learning curve, many families who chose face-to-face instruction for their children were pleased with the way the first day flowed.
Denise Milazzo, parent of a sophomore and a senior at Windermere High, said their first day back on campus went well and they were happy to be back.
“They said things were clean, organized, and everyone seemed very patient and happy to be there,” Milazzo said. “They were happy to go back and feel a little bit normal again. There were too many distractions and technical problems working from home, and it became frustrating, especially for my son who has ADHD.”
Meanwhile, the brand-new Summerlake Elementary opened its doors to students for the first time. Parents are learning how to navigate the school campus on top of sending their children back to school for the first time in five months. Principal Delaine Bender told parents in a Connect-Orange call the school is working on streamlining its arrival and dismissal procedures and making some changes to reduce drop-off and pickup times.
“We had a great first day,” Bender told parents in the call. “Thanks for your support and patience as we work to streamline our arrival and dismissal procedures.”
Additionally, Summerlake was one of the OCPS schools that Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins and School Board Chair Teresa Jacobs visited that day.
“The children were just so excited; it makes a huge impact,” Jenkins said while visiting the schools. “The principal and the adults on campus were excited, as well. … Lots of our children have missed being on campus. … We like to make sure all of our procedures are being practiced consistently. We certainly want to see the joy in the faces of our young people; that’s why we do the work. We want to make sure all of our employees are appropriately taken care of, as well.”
“The kids that are coming back are so excited to be coming back,” Jacobs said. “I think what’s amazing to me is hearing about the teachers that are so excited to be back. While we know there are a lot of people with a lot of concerns, we don’t hear about the people that are just extremely grateful to have an opportunity to be back in the classroom, whether it’s the teachers or the students.”
Being able to accommodate students in the classroom again is no small feat, but Jenkins reminded the community that the district’s plans remain fluid depending on the trajectory of the pandemic and health guidelines.
“We have to … have some tolerance for ambiguity because CDC guidelines change, the state’s guidelines change, (and) we’re going to continue to work to do the best possible practices for our children and for our employees,” she said. “I want to remind those who are on [email protected] that this is not a break for them. We want them to keep working — and to keep working hard — to get their learning accomplished.”