Parents advocate for LaunchED to remain

For some families, Orange County Public Schools’ LaunchED@Home platform has been so beneficial they hope it will continue next year.

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  • | 12:12 p.m. May 5, 2021
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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When Orange County Public Schools’ LaunchED@Home platform was first introduced last summer, it was met with mixed feelings from teachers and families.

One year later, some parents already are vying for the district’s digital learning platform to remain an option for the 2021-22 school year.

Although many students have returned to face-to-face instruction, there is still a good portion learning from LaunchED. In a March 10 community update video, Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins said OCPS currently serves 60% of its 206,000 students in the face-to-face setting, while 40% remain on LaunchED.

Horizon West resident Althea Williams’ daughters attended via LaunchED until the last quarter of school. For her family, remaining with LaunchED for the majority of the pandemic was a safety concern. However, it turned out to be something that worked for her children.

“We had that as the alternative, so I applaud OCPS for doing that and giving us parents an option,” Williams said. “I like the flexibility of (LaunchED), the fact that they can still get the same quality of learning while being remote, and it’s not just self-taught.”

Windermere resident Zeyna Shaikh has four children. Three of them are school-age and in first, fifth and seventh grades. The stay-at-home mom has cherished the extra time she’s been able to spend with her children while also keeping them safe at home.

“As with most families, in the very beginning, it was a challenge because we weren’t used to it,” Shaikh said. “I realized as all parents do that kids are resilient, and they pick up so, so fast. They were picking up better than I was — and I’m a computer science major. To be completely honest … I have loved it. I’ve genuinely loved it.”

But whether LaunchED returns next year is undecided.

District 4 School Board Member Pam Gould said the superintendent and the district are working through many of the details, and ultimately, they don’t know what the state will allow.

“We’re not at a point where we can define it yet,” Gould said. “All that is under review right now. We haven’t gotten a proposal back. All we have said to the superintendent is, ‘Let’s look at what we can do with this technology that we have and utilize it for students it works for.’ … It will take negotiating with the state as part of an innovative plan in order to make it beyond this. 

“And how do we get paid for it? That’s a big question,” Gould said. “These are all the questions that still need to be answered, and there’s no answers yet. That’s what the superintendent and staff are reviewing and trying to figure out.”

Horizon West resident Arshina Kidwai’s eighth-grade daughter also embraced the LaunchED option.

“At home, she has her own space with her computer, and she’s working on her assignments with no distractions,” Kidwai said. “She’s loving it, and she’s doing (well). At least with LaunchED, they’re given a nice option where you are interacting with the teacher and your peers — but you’re online at the same time. We really like that the platform itself.”

Shaikh said she wants LaunchED to continue as an option for the next school year, adding that although there is no right answer regarding learning platforms, it’s nice to have another choice.

“Not that it’s perfect, but we have perfected LaunchED so well at this point,” Shaikh said. “It’s so smooth, and it would be a shame to take it away at this point.”

For those who hope to see platforms such as LaunchED continue, Gould recommended contacting the Florida Department of Education and Gov. Ron DeSantis to let them know they want their district to be able to make choices on how it delivers education.

“My hope would be that it is left to the staff and the school districts at the local level to find and utilize all the tools that we have available for our students to help them succeed, because every child learns differently,” Gould said. “That includes LaunchED, (Orange County Virtual School) and traditional school. The more ways we can deliver school, the more kids will be successful because then we can meet them where they are.”


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