School Board approves innovative learning model

Board members voted to send OCPSLaunchED@Home, along with a waiver that would allow it to make reopening decisions on a local level, to the state.

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  • | 1:30 p.m. July 22, 2020
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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After two meetings spanning nearly 15 hours, the Orange County School Board voted to send the district’s innovative learning option to the state — along with a waiver — for approval.

School Board members first met Tuesday, July 14, to discuss school-reopening plans and decide on the next course of action. More than 100 members of the public provided their input. Nearly 10 hours into the meeting, board members voted to table discussion and reconvene in a special meeting Friday, July 17.

The board’s 6-2 stamp of approval — with members Dr. Kat Gordon and Karen Castor-Dentel dissenting — sends the OCPSLaunchED@Home concept to the state. Should it be approved, it will be one of three options parents have for sending their children back to school in the fall. Currently, the School Board’s tentative reopening date is Friday, Aug. 21.

OCPSLaunchED@Home gives students the opportunity to continue to learn at home while remaining registered at their enrolled school. 

In addition, OCPS families may choose face-to-face instruction and virtual learning. Specific safety measures — including a mask mandate for all staff and students over the age of 3 when on campus — would be in place on school campuses. Families also can enroll their child in Orange County Virtual School or Florida Virtual School for self-paced lessons.

Along with submitting OCPSLaunchED@Home for approval, the board sent a waiver that would allow it to make a decision on safe school reopening and face-to-face instruction dependent on local COVID-19 conditions and guidance from medical experts. Should the waiver be approved, the board then could retract reopening brick-and-mortar schools.

“We voted to … simultaneously submit a waiver that insists that, under our constitutional authority, we insist on the right to determine what is safe for our district with regards to opening our schools,” School Board Member Linda Kobert said. “And we’re going to call on state leaders, parents, teachers, everyone to stand with us in support of local control with your locally elected leaders.”

During the July 14 meeting, many comments called for the School Board to keep school buildings closed.

“Face-to-face teaching — under the best of conditions, the best of plans — is unsafe given the explosion of cases we’re experiencing,” said Gretchen Robinson, an Orange County Public Schools teacher and member of the county’s Classroom Teachers Association. “I have zero interest in playing chicken with a deadly virus.”

Nicole Stein, a Southwest Orange resident, said she has a rising first-grader whom she would love to keep connected to his school but is concerned about safety surrounding the coronavirus.

“Common sense tells us it’s a bad idea,” Stein said. “The stop and start of schools is inevitable because of the virus. … I’m very, very interested in the innovative plan because we talk about mental illness, emotional illness and keeping our children healthy in those areas.”

Some speakers favored the return of have face-to-face instruction. Horizon West resident Rachel Gunson said her children needed to return to school for social reasons and because she has to work.

“I am a single mom, and I have to go back to work,” Gunson said. “What about us, the families that have to work? Who’s going to pay my bills? … My kids do best with structure, and the structure of going to school helps them a lot. They need to go back to school. … We need some sense of normalcy back, and I get the teachers are scared — I get it, we all are scared — but this is the next step in hopefully getting some normalcy back.”

School Board Member Pam Gould acknowledged there are many issues facing OCPS students and families, especially in the face of a global pandemic.

“We are basically facing another mandate that is underfunded,” Gould said. “No matter which way we turn, people’s health and wellbeing are at risk. … This is an assault from all sides — the virus and the economic structure.”

Parents have been asked to fill out forms to register their instructional model of choice for their children by Friday, July 24. If the registration isn’t completed, children will automatically be registered to attend their assigned school under the face-to-face model.