COVID-19: OCPS superintendent releases March 18 communication to all staff

FAFSA Help Session

Editor’s note: The following is new communication that Barbara Jenkins, Orange County Public Schools superintendent, sent to all staff on Wednesday, March 18, regarding the “rapid” changes the district underwent as a result of COVID-19.

Among the topics the communication touches upon are the recap that students should not return to school until April 15 and OCPS’ preparation for transition to distance learning, which begins March 30.

Dear OCPS Team,

We care deeply about the health and well-being of our 25,000 employees and 212,000 students. While we can’t do much to remove the anxiety experienced by the OCPS team, I want to provide a follow-up communication to each of you. We also acknowledge that plans for public education continue to change every day. I know staff are frustrated with these rapid changes, as are our parents and families. In a matter of two weeks we went from schools remaining open, to schools being closed for a week beyond spring break, to schools being closed until April 15. We all suspect that we have not come to the end of such rapid changes. Admittedly, we don’t know all the answers, but we are working to find them. Our education system as we knew it simply does not exist today. I still believe our teachers and staff will creatively provide the best possible support to our students in the coming weeks. I humbly ask for your patience during a challenging transition. We will also be in discussion with our unions.

Let’s recap what happened late yesterday around 5 p.m. We were informed on a conference call that students should not return to school until April 15. It is expected that continuity of instruction be provided for all students, beginning March 30. The expectation is also that we accomplish this with the resources already provided. It was shared that state testing has been canceled for the year. The Governor was simultaneously announcing the same at a news conference. I appreciate the strong leadership demonstrated at the state level, given the difficult tasks before them. Last night we quickly notified staff to return to work next Monday to allow as much time as possible for personal planning. We also notified parents.

OCPS has an Instructional Continuity Plan that includes packets for students and distance learning. Because every student does not have a device and connectivity, we must use a blended model. Teachers and classified staff are critical to help prepare for the transition. At this point, we believe we can offer abbreviated schedules (8 a.m.-11 a.m. or noon to 3 p.m.) with no impact on pay for staff, but stay tuned for further instructions. Central office staff and I will also be assisting at schools.

We are working swiftly to make contact at schools as brief and as safe as possible. There is no prohibition for meetings of 10 or fewer, and many in our community are still going to work every day. We intend to accomplish student instruction remotely, but we must begin with preparations. At a minimum, most instructional staff will need to come to school to prepare documents for students, and to retrieve necessary materials and devices. Big Blue Button will be used as much as possible for meetings and virtual training for teachers is a part of the plan. You will be able to access our Learning Continuity Plan later today.

We are also researching possibilities to assist with childcare. There are simply no easy answers, but together we will get through this difficult time. Please stay tuned for more details as they become available. Additional information will be posted later today.

Dr. Barbara Jenkins