Orange County School Board delays vote on reopening campuses

Potential start date would be Aug. 21 as coronavirus cases continue to surge

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Orange County School Board has delayed a vote on reopening campuses for this upcoming school year.

The board will meet at 9 a.m. Friday and it will be a decision only meeting.

The delayed vote will allow the superintendent and school board to research the different options after hearing hours of public comment on Tuesday.

The board previously discussed health and safety protocols, learning options and what to do in case of a school-related COVID-19 case during an 11-hour work session last week.

The Orange County School Board has laid out three options for students for the upcoming academic year: face-to-face learning, virtual school or innovative learning that will involve online classes that follow the same schedule as on-campus classes.

Eighteen Orange County school employees have tested positive for the virus, according to the district. In Orange County, nearly 19,000 people have tested positive for the respiratory illness since March, including 83 fatalities.

Updates from the meeting can be viewed below

9:32 p.m. Delaying the vote?

The School board is discussing the idea of delaying the vote until Friday.

One of the board members was having connection issues to the meeting.

The proposed meeting on Friday would start at 9 a.m. and it would be a decision only meeting.

The delayed vote will allow the superintendent and school board to research the different options after hearing hours of public comment on Tuesday.

8:39 p.m. Dr. Pino is not at meeting

Orange County Health Officer Dr. Raul Pino was not at Tuesday’s meeting.

8 p.m. Public Comment ends

The public comment period has ended and after a break the school board will discuss the reopening plan for the 2020-21 school year.

7:30 p.m. What is the COVID-19 impact on kids?

Pediatric pulmonologist called in to describe the unknown risks COVID-19 has on children.

“We don’t know what this will do to children.”

“We need time to understand this disease. By the way face shields make no difference that is rubbish,“ the caller said. ”Nobody should die from this disease. Parents have done an awesome job.”

Another caller sobbed through her remarks and angrily said, “I hope hell can make room for all of you.”

The caller accused the board of being reactive, “You are sitting for hours while people are begging.”

7 p.m. What about high-risk teachers?

Another OCPS teacher joined the chorus of callers to say there is not a safe way to reopen school campuses.

Maria Hernandez said she is in the at risk category.

“We are human beings and we need options. Teachers love their profession, we want what is best. Make sure you are doing the same thing. We need to advocate for our children. Be empathetic and real, will you send your kids back to school under these situations?” she said.

Hernandez said she should not worry about bringing home the virus.

“Let’s be more than a school district let’s be a family,” she said.

A caller in support of reopening urged board members to follow the data, “I have five kids, we need to go back to school. For many of these students school is their refuge, not online learning”

The caller added, “I disagree with the fear that I have heard all day long.”

6:40 p.m.

Another OCPS teacher joined the chorus of callers to say there is not a safe way to reopen school campuses.

”We can do all the hand washing sanitizing and wearing a mask. You will find them on the ground, kids will pick them off the floor,” the teacher said of face masks.

The elementary school teacher said students won’t follow a mask mandate and that distance learning was great.

She went on to say, “we are just numbers, statistics ... I’m scared. I’m 59 years old. I’m scared. I’m afraid. I don’t feel comfortable going back!”

6 p.m. Public comment continues

An OCPS high school senior told the school board they are concerned about testing students for COVID-19. Most testing locations around Florida will test those over 18 years old.

“Almost nowhere will they test under age 18,” the student said. “Don’t reopen schools you don’t have to.”

The 17-year-old, like others earlier in the day, promised to use their vote when the time came.

“I will gain the right to vote in a few months, and I will remember this,” the student said.

The general counsel for the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association called in to speak on behalf “of the best teachers” and urged the board, “now we have a moment in history to actually actualize those accolades.”

He called the board to rely on what health officials know about the coronavirus.

“Go by the best science available. Science tells you we are peaking: the hospital, ICUs ... Let’s be evidence based.”

5:30 p.m. What about teachers who are high-risk?

A 4th grade OCPS teacher who is a new mom with an autoimmune disease is nervous about schools reopening, she told the school board.

“I have a 4 month old at home it’s incredibly scary,” the teacher said with her infant son heard in the background.

The teacher asked if sanitizing will take away from instructional time.

“We know children are affected by this disease. What about the teacher over 65-years-old, you are asking us to choose between our lives and jobs,” the teacher said to the school board.

5:00 p.m. ‘History has its eyes on you'

An OCPS graduate cited his education at public schools and quoted the Broadway musical ‘Hamilton’ in his comments to the school board.

“History has its eyes on you, I strongly encourage you to remember that when you vote on what to do,” Anthony Slovensky said, asking the board to opt for virtual-only learning.

The 2017 graduate said he was concerned about a possible active shooter situation and what happens in the event of a lockdown or a mass evacuation.

“You must ignore the brick-and-mortar mandate otherwise you are at best complicit and at worst murderers,” Slovensky said.

4:30 p.m. How will teachers make students wear face masks?

Public comment from concerned parents, teachers, students and community members continues into Tuesday afternoon, many of whom expressed doubts that teachers will be able to enforce face mask wearing among students.

A father of a child with autism called in and asked about what happens with a student with special needs gets COVID-19 and that some of those students will have difficulty learning with face coverings.

“Students with a disabilities, they cannot learn with a mask,” he said in Spanish.

Veronica Lucca, with Organize Florida and the mother of 7 year old student with asthma said her child has suffered panic attacks while his father battled coronavirus.

Sending her child to school would be irresponsible for her child, Lucca said through an interpreter, with the numbers of COVID-19 cases are out of control.

She asked how teachers will be able to control 20 student in a classroom and require them to wear face masks.

A OCPS student, the president of her student class, asked the board if reopening plans will be adjusted to for larger schools.

She asked the board to address plans for incoming 2020-2021 seniors to accommodate college testing and senior year activities. Most graduation ceremonies were cancelled across Central Florida this year due to the pandemic.

Another student who called in to say teachers cannot be expected to be public health officers.

3:40 p.m. ‘Deal with the fallout later:' Board asked to ignore state mandate

Several teachers and concerned citizens who called in for comment Tuesday afternoon asked the school board to ignore the Florida Department of Education order to reopen schools to students.

“Either you ignore this mandate or we vote you out in November,” a woman who identified herself as an OCPS high school teacher said, adding teachers could be spending this time planning for effective virtual learning instead of debating the unsafe return to schools during COVID-19.

The teacher asked the School Board to “deal with the fallout later” for defying Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s executive order.

Another caller, who identified himself as the partner of an OCPS teacher, also asked the board to ignore the executive order, telling them doing otherwise would make them “spinless cowards.”

“Stand up for us because that’s what we elected you to do,” he said after an impassioned plea. “How many deaths are acceptable? If that answer is anything but zero shame on you.”

Another OCPS teacher who called in said she because of the virus she has experienced the “worst summer ever” and has been actively planning her will. She also implored the school board to ignore the mandate to return to campus in August.

3:30 p.m. Concerns about behavioral and special needs

Fallen Everett, a second grade teacher, asked the board to suggest what teachers should do if a student out-right refuses to wear a mask and those with already social-emotional issues who may have difficulty understanding why they must wear a face mask.

“How are teachers expected to help those students if they are expected to social distance,” Everett said.

A mother of a hearing-impaired students said the board should consider what wearing a mask will do to students who need to read lips or have special needs.

2:50 p.m. 10 minute break

The school board is taking a 10 minute break to deal with some technical issues. Board Chair Teresa Jacobs said she expects there is about 1 hour of public comment left after the break.

Board member Johanna Lopez, District 2, and Angie Gallo, District 1, said members of the public are still having difficulty calling in to make their comments to the board. There are interpreters available for people calling into the school board meeting, according to Lopez.

2:40 p.m. Addressing minority students’ needs

Title 1 OCPS teacher Machani Roberson spoke about the socio-economic needs of students as well as the fact that minority populations are proportionally affected by the coronavirus, according to the data.

“In the U.S. the mortality rate is high in black and brown communities,” she told the board. “I wake up crying, because I know students who go back won’t have an online option and look like me.”

Roberson asked the school district to look at the access to online options, then provide families and parents the resources they need.

“I want to give families options to have accessibility,” she said.

2:12 p.m. ‘How many people are you willing to let die?'

Powerful comment continues at the Orange County School Board meeting from concerned teachers, OCPS staff and parents.

Nicholas Anderson, an OCPS teacher, looked at the board asked them to think about five years from now and their decision if they allow Orange County schools to reopen.

If schools open, the disease will spread to parents and teachers, Anderson warned, telling the board, ”You will not be able to wash your hands of that.”

“I’m asking the board to do the hard thing but the right thing, to fight against what we know is the wrong thing, how many people are you willing to let die?” Anderson said.

Ron Collard, the grandfather of three girls at Orange County schools, spoke on behalf of essential workers, including bus drivers, custodians and other staff at OCPS.

He asked the school board bring the school staff back early to train and get used to the new changes before the students returned.

1:55 p.m. Teachers concerned about bringing virus home to family

Public comments continues with heated arguments about Florida’s handling of the virus and how schools will handle the ongoing pandemic and keep students and staff safe, many coming from teachers and OCPS teachers.

“Who are we prepared to bury?” Gretchen Robinson, who identified herself as an Orange County teacher, told the board after listing off her friends and family who have been impacted by the virus.

Jason Henry, an Orlando resident, who called in for comment said he recognized the difficult decisions the board must make.

Henry said while the data doesn’t yet show how at risk children are for COVID-19, adults are at a higher risk. His concern was for the staff who may need to take time off if they are infected and if they will be given paid leave.

A Math teacher for OCPS said she was fearful for herself and her family members who are also employees of the school district. She felt teachers did not have enough say in the current reopening plan.

“I think it would be best to prepare for the worst,” she said, adding school staff are mentally and physically stressed about returning to schools.

“We are professionals, we could do it,” she said of online-only learning for the 2020-2021 school year.

1:44 p.m. Public comment underway

The board is taking comments from school staff and members of the public. Each person has 3 minutes to speak.

Jared Stuart, an English teacher at Winter Park High School, was the first to speak. He expressed his concerns for social distancing. He said he usually has 30 students in a classroom with space for 25 desks.

“I don’t know how we’re going to get 3 feet of space) let alone 6,” Stuart said.

He is also concerned about bringing home the virus to his asthmatic wife and his young child.

1:25 p.m. Overview of the three learning options

Superintendent Barbara Jenkins is going over a presentation of the district’s innovative plan to reopen schools.

According to Jenkins, the schedule for the meeting will look something like this: Jenkins will go over the three OCPS reopening models, the school calendar proposal if the year begins later on Aug. 21 and lastly the OCPS reopening details.

After reviewing those details the board will be open to questions and discussion.

You can read about the three proposed learning options for students at Orange County schools here.

12:50 p.m. Board members mask up

A member of the public in the audience of the meeting held up a sign that board members physically present should be wearing face masks. The board members present in person were separated by 6 feet or were attending remotely to the meeting.

After the sign, School Board Chair Teresa Jacobs and the other three board members present put on face masks.

12:40 p.m. Board comments limited to 5 minutes

Dr. Kathleen Gordon, school board member for District 5, objected to a motion to restrict board member comments to 5 minutes. She was the only member to object the motion.

Board members can speak for 5 minutes and then will allow other members to speak until their turn comes up again.

12:30 p.m. A moment of silence

The Orange County School Board session started with public comment via phone Tuesday and a moment of silence for coronavirus victims.

Members of the public had difficulty calling into the meeting because of the issues the board extended the public comment time.

Members of the public can call 407-250-6270 to give up to 3 minutes of input until 12:40 p.m., according to Board Chair Teresa Jacobs.

6:55 a.m. Board will consider delayed school start

Orange County Public Schools announced that a new proposal to push back the start of the school year will be discussed Tuesday at the board meeting.

The proposal would move the start of the school year to August 21. Currently, the plan is to start school on August 10.

In addition, the district’s Innovative plan option, also known as LaunchEd@Home, will allow students to spend part of the week at school and part at home.

School officials said details will be sent to employees and parents Tuesday morning and will be available on the district’s website.

About the Author: