ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – On Monday morning, 212,000 students enrolled in Orange County Public Schools will be starting the 2020-2021 school year by logging on virtually on the district’s LaunchEd at home platform.
Then on Aug. 21, about 37% of students will return to face-to-face learning.
Orange County Public Schools held a news conference at the Academic Center for Excellence with four important things they wanted parents to know ahead of school starting Monday morning.
"We know that this start may be choppy and a little rough," said Orange County Public Schools spokesperson Scott Howat. "We are going to address those issues and work hard to assist those families and students in need."
Upgrades to LaunchEd at Home
At the news conference Friday, the senior director of digital learning Maurice Dragon explained how over the summer the district worked with internet providers and program directors, such as Canvas, to increase bandwidth and capacity on district platforms.
"This is literally the exact scenario I gave them," Dragon said. "I said, 'If elementary starts at 8:15-8:30 and 120,000 students hit that button at exactly the same time, are we prepared for that?' and that's the model we tried to build from."
Dragon said the issues last year when the district shifted to distance learning stemmed from all students logging in around the same time. Now with students following their school’s bell schedule with high school, middle school and elementary school start times staggered, he hopes it will be smoother.
“There are things that are not in our control with technology in all honesty, but we have done our best to prepare for students and the load that will come from LaunchEd,” he said.
Enhancements to technology inside classrooms
Dragon then showed News 6 JaMia Weaver’s third grade classroom that’s already been set up. He explained how teachers will have a laptop and a document camera that could connect to students virtually while also teaching inside the classroom.
“These resources are not new, they are adjusting however to using them in an all-day, at-home model,” Dragon said.
The teachers have also been supplied with an audio system and microphone for each classroom. This year the enhancements allow for the audio to be converted digitally so students online can hear clearly.
“I feel comfortable,” Weaver said. “I know the different apps and things like that and I have been doing the training. I feel confident and ready for Monday.”
Weaver has already used the LaunchEd program for summer school and gives parents insight on how students responded to following a schedule on the computer all day.
PPE supplies for classrooms
Howat said the district has been working to secure PPE supplies for the reopening of school since May and can promise there will be PPE in every classroom.
Howat said each classroom will have at least one face shield for teachers, reusable masks for students, reusable masks for teachers and disposable masks in case a student forgets theirs. He said there will also be one gallon of hand sanitizer in each classroom, those bottles being distributed Friday, he said.
"Many of them have already been distributed," Howat said.
However, the district is not planning on buying desk partitions for every student. That was something asked for by the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, who declared an impasse in negotiations with the district Thursday.
“Desk partitions, we have not done that,” Howat said. “It may be used if they (students) can’t wear a mask.”
The district said they have also ordered enough thermometers to supply each school with five thermometers, though temperature checks will be periodic, Howat said.
"There is a lot of different research on doing temp checks and the efficacy of that, making sure we are doing it periodically throughout the school at certain times," he added.
New curbside lunch pick-up
Unlike how it was over the summer, school breakfast and lunch will no longer be free. Students will have to register for free or reduced lunch by Sept. 23. The district will offer those meals to students with a valid student ID. However, different than the summer, the district will be passing out those meals only on Mondays and will supply students meals for the rest of the five-day school week.
“The free and reduced program is there for all parents this year,” said Lora Gilbert, senior director of food nutrition services. “If they have experienced any change in income or worried about having enough money for food.”
There are also 134 schools now qualified to continue giving free lunches to students, to see if your child’s school is on the list or for more information, click here.
If parents have any other questions, the district has created a 76-page health and safety procedures manual for reopening schools, that can be found here.