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Southwest Orange Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020 1 month ago

Sunset Park class shuffle concerns parents

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At Sunset Park Elementary and Horizon West Middle schools, many classes are being shifted to accommodate students who will be returning to the classroom from virtual learning.
by: Danielle Hendrix Associate Editor

As nearly 16,000 students returned to face-to-face instruction at Orange County Public Schools this week to begin the second quarter, that influx of learners is causing a ripple effect some parents did not expect.

With the influx of students, some teachers have been switched to different grade levels, experienced shifts to classroom sizes or have begun teaching a blended classroom with both face-to-face and [email protected] students. 

Parents at Sunset Park Elementary and Horizon West Middle schools received letters last week stating their children would be moved to different classes to accommodate the returning students.

Jane Benner has a fourth-grader at Sunset Park and an eighth-grader at Horizon West Middle. She is especially concerned about the effect the shifts will have on both teachers and students at the elementary school when the LaunchED model was created in an effort to seamlessly transition students back to the classroom.

“If this is the intent, it makes sense that those face-to-face students already attending school for Quarter One should be minimally affected as students return,” Benner wrote in an email to OCPS officials. “The problem I see is that the interpretation at Sunset Park seems to be that the number of face-to-face students needs to be adjusted down to a lower number, even though Florida is in Phase Three and class-size limits are not exceeded, upsetting the current learning environment.

“The spirit of the face-to-face and LaunchED model has been violated,” she said. “The whole point was to try to seamlessly get those kids back in the classroom. … At the end of the day, we’ve just hurt the kids who have already had enough uncertainty, change and unpredictability.”

Roberta Kroop’s twin boys, kindergartners at Sunset Park, started second quarter in a new class and with a new teacher. 

“They sent out a voicemail and email saying that changes were coming, and it would be communicated that some children would have to change classes because they have a huge influx of people going back to face-to-face,” she said. “We were then told that we would receive a letter for each of our children that would be outlining if and to (which teacher) they would be changing to.”

Kroop said her boys didn’t get letters at first, but she later received two emails stating that they would be among those changing classes.

“Over the weekend, we talked about the fact that they’re going to be getting a new teacher,” Kroop said. “They were like, ‘A new teacher? But we like our teacher.’ … I feel like right now every child is going through so much as it is, and yes, they’re resilient, but there still is an emotional/psychological toll on it. And at some point, it’s going to affect them.”

Horizon West Middle parents also received an email Oct. 11 alerting them that schedules may change.

OCPS officials said the changes are based on the choices students and their families have made regarding their learning modality for the second quarter. However, they added, they cannot make assumptions as to why families at one school are returning to face-to-face at a higher number than at other schools. According to district officials, 15,792 students switched from [email protected] to face-to-face and 983 students from face-to-face to [email protected]

District 4 School Board Member Pam Gould said the shuffling is happening across the district but is more significant at Sunset Park. Part of that is because the school is projected to have a variance of nearly $1.3 million in its budget.

“The principal started down the path of — rather than waiting until the second half of the year and getting final calculations — trying to prepare now, and I’ve talked with the area superintendent about that approach,” Gould said. “He is reviewing that logic with the principal. They were hit pretty dramatically for an elementary school in that recalculation.”

Calculations are based on per-student funding, and Sunset Park’s numbers are based on the number of students who haven’t come back via LaunchED or face-to-face. 

According to OCPS, schools level classes around this time each year and adjust assignments based on student enrollment.

“Although we have more teachers at this point than our enrollment would require, we are not ‘cutting’ or releasing any teachers at this time,” district officials said. “We are simply changing assignments for several to fill vacancies and provide services to our students.”

Danielle Hendrix is the Associate Editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Windermere Observer. She is a 2015 graduate of the University of Central Florida, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in world comparative studies. ...

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