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Dear Orange County Schools Community

Dear Orange County Schools Community:

The Orange County Board of Education believes that in-person learning is the best way to provide educational opportunities for our Orange County Schools (OCS) students, and we look forward to having students back in the classroom. This is why we have authorized a hybrid return to in-person learning beginning January 26, 2021. 

We decided to reopen our school buildings in collaboration with Orange County Schools’ superintendent Dr. Monique Felder, district staff, the Orange County Health Department, and the scientists and  infectious disease and pediatric medical experts with the ABC Science Collaborative. We continue working with these same stakeholders to monitor the current COVID-19 data and statistics--and will always keep health and safety at the forefront of all we do.

As the pandemic continues to evolve, we continue to closely monitor our local metrics and take into account the changing realities of our situation right here in Orange County. Tight local coordination means that we have the support of the Director of the Orange County Health Department, Quintana Stewart, to proceed with a carefully planned return to school for staff and students. 

Director Stewart said the following regarding the reopening of our schools: “The Orange County Health Department supports a coordinated and scientifically-based approach to returning staff and students to their schools and worksites. Based on our review of the COVID-19 trends in Orange County and the careful planning of our school district, we believe schools can reopen in a hybrid learning model, in line with the 50+ North Carolina school districts that have opened in this model this school year. The Health Department remains committed to close coordination with district leadership, and we will absolutely work together if we need to revisit this decision.”

The latest scientific knowledge about COVID-19 is guiding our decision making. We know more about how the virus spreads and how it can be contained than we did this spring and summer.  As such, we are taking multiple considerations into account along with continuing to monitor four key metrics with the Orange County Health Department:

  1. Number of COVID-like illnesses
  2. Percentage of positive total COVID-19 tests
  3. Number of confirmed case counts
  4. Number of confirmed hospitalizations

In addition, we have learned more about what these trends mean. For example, the data show that there is no single metric that predicts success or failure in NC schools; each local district’s capacity and capability along with metrics must be taken into consideration when considering closures of classrooms, schools, or the district--not just how the metrics are trending  as was thought previously. In continued collaboration with the Orange County Health Department, we know we must also consider:

  • The capacity of the OC Health Department to conduct contact tracing
  • The ability of the OCS school/worksite to carry out essential operations
  • The number of clusters in a particular OCS school/worksite
  • Capacity for our local hospitals to meet the demand

We also know from the science and data that the best defense against mitigating the virus in schools and throughout our community is strict adherence to the 3Ws--properly wearing a cloth mask/face covering, waiting at least 6 feet apart, and frequently washing and sanitizing hands. More information about our system for monitoring and decision making is available in our Orange County Schools Plan B COVID-19 Safety Processes & Protocols Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), found here. 

While the NC Department of Public Instruction doesn't require school systems to post positive COVID cases, Orange County Schools (OCS) believes it is important to be as transparent as possible, while protecting student and staff identities.  Therefore, OCS will use a Weekly COVID-19 Tracking Sheet beginning on December 11 to update the public on new cases, new clusters, and cumulative reported cases. 

We recognize that following these health guidelines and creating a safe learning  and work environment will require unprecedented procedures and protocols for staff. As a vital step in preparing for this transition, Orange County Schools staff will return to our school buildings on December 7.  In any previous year, staff would return to school with days and weeks of professional development and opportunities to prepare their classrooms without students. Our return on December 7 will not look like any return to school in our lifetime.  Over the next two weeks and in January, our return will include intensive professional development and practice utilizing technologies to teach students remotely from our classrooms, learning about each school’s detailed plans, and practicing safety protocols and processes to prepare for our students’ return to school in January -- and our staff will be teaching students at the same time.  And we do not know what the winter may have in store for us regarding inclement weather, therefore we can not wait until January to prepare and practice for a safe return to /school for our students.     

All staff are returning on December 7 including teachers who will be teaching only students who have opted for Virtual Academy. This is because our schools continue to be small communities that depend on teamwork each day and function as a collective.  All staff (teachers, front office staff, custodians, administration, teacher assistants, etc.) are necessary for our day-to-day operations.  This includes teachers maintaining their collegial relationships at a safe distance, assisting with and giving feedback on various processes and protocols, monitoring and supporting students throughout the day, offering coverage as needed, and providing students with much needed consistency.

OCS staff, at all levels, have been asked to operate in unique and challenging ways this school year. We appreciate all the effort already spent to ensure our students receive the best possible education during these difficult times. And, we are so grateful for the time and dedication that staff members will continue to put into new ways of teaching and learning. 

The Orange County Board of Education is committed to supporting a safe transition for all. We encourage everyone in Orange County to maintain the 3Ws of waiting at least 6 feet apart, washing our hands, and wearing our masks. As a community, we can put education first and carefully reopen our school buildings to our staff and our students. 

Thank you for your continued support and all you do to support students and their learning. Your efforts are recognized and appreciated.

Orange County Board of Education

Orange County Schools Superintendent, Dr. Monique Felder

 

Cc. Quintana Stewart, Director, Orange County Health Department