ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Due to the rising coroanvirus cases throughout the U.S. and in Central Florida, the Orange County Public Schools medical advisory committee wrote a letter Wednesday asking Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to consider allowing the school district to continue offering virtual learning for the rest of the school year.
In July, the Orange County school board established a medical advisory committee made up of infectious disease experts, pediatricians and nurses to help the school district evaluate how to deal with the ongoing pandemic.
On Wednesday, the committee submitted a letter to Corcoran, writing “we believe having a virtual school platform for the entire 2020-2021 academic year is a medical necessity for many of our students, especially those who have underlying medical conditions that would place them at high-risk."
While the medical advisory committee writes that virus cases have been low compared to the 200,000 student-body population with 706 cases as of Nov. 4, “this low number of positive cases is not due to a lack of infections in out local community, cases of COVID-19 are currently rising.”
The medical experts anticipate more students needing to quarantine or isolate in the spring semester as more students and faculty are exposed to the virus.
“Without a virtual platform, students' ability to access their curriculum and make effective progress would be significantly impacted,” Dr. Vincent Hsu, the medical advisory committee chair, writes.
Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins commended the medical advisory committee’s continued efforts to safeguard OCPS students and staff.
“The committee’s letter to Commissioner Corcoran is evidence of their continued support of safe educational choices for our families as we prepare for the second half of the school year,” Jenkins said.
Two doctors on the medical committee Thursday explained why virtual learning is key through the pandemic.
“It’s really important that we don’t become complacent,” said Dr. Akin Ajayi. “So, if parents want their kids to go back to school that’s an option, but it shouldn’t be an option that is forced upon them because they have no other choice.”
Dr. Annette Nielsen weighed in, too.
“We need to be able to protect our communities and keeping our kids home for launch Ed is a reasonable option,” said Dr. Nielsen. “We know with the community spread increasing as it is, we have children who are getting the illness taking it home and we have parents who are getting the illness spreading it to their child here we need to keep our community safe.”
Under an emergency order for the fall 2020 semester by the Florida Department of Education all school districts could offer virtual learning options as long as they offered face-to-face education. School districts had to submit their re-opening plans to the state for approval.
However, with the fall semester almost over the state has yet to provide guidance to districts about next semester and if they will be able to continue virtual learning options.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said the department has received similar questions and suggestions from other school districts around the state.
“We are carefully considering each of them before making any decisions,” Cheryl Etters, with the DOE, said in an email.
School districts submitted data to a Department of Education survey in October and the DOE is now working to clean that data to get a better picture of what enrollment looks like and how it could impact the Spring 2021 semester, Etters said.
There is a State Board of Education meeting on Nov. 10 where some of these matters will be discussed.