The Orange County Schools Board of Education met Monday to discuss COVID-19 updates, transitioning to hybrid learning and new Gender Support and Lactation Support policies.
Orange County Schools is preparing to reopen schools through a hybrid, Plan B approach in January.
Rebecca Crawford, finance and administrative operations director for the Orange County Health Department, said COVID-19 cases are increasing in Orange County, but the Orange County Health Department will be receiving more case investigators and contact tracers starting next week.
“We as a health department have determined that we support Orange County schools reopening, regardless of the metrics,” Crawford said.
However, community members have expressed concerns about requiring teachers to return to school buildings to teach.
Kaitlyn Stubblefield, an Orange County Schools alum and current employee, shared a letter written with other staff at New Hope Elementary School. She asked for consideration of a staggered reentry schedule for staff, defined and clearly communicated metrics to evaluate the safety of Plan B and the inclusion of staff voices in matters that impact teaching and learning.
“We want and deserve to feel informed and supported in this transition,” Stubblefield said.
Monique Felder, superintendent of Orange County Schools, said that last week, some staff members were reluctant about returning to teach on campus, but by the end of the week, staff reported they felt better about the return.
Gender Support Policy
The board unanimously passed the Gender Support Policy, which the district says would help create a safe and supportive school environment for transgender or transitioning students and staff.
The policy provides guidelines intended to help schools promote the educational and social integration of transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming students and staff and ensure a safe learning environment free from discrimination and harassment. For example, the policy states students are not required to obtain parental consent or a court-ordered name and/or gender change to be addressed by the name and pronoun they select.
The policy also outlines procedures for changing a student’s permanent pupil record, changes to student or staff records and restroom and locker room accessibility.
Colin O’Hagerty, a junior at Orange High School, spoke in favor of the Gender Support Policy during public comment.
"Schools should be a place of welcoming and acceptance," O'Haggerty said.
Lactation Support Policy
The board also approved the Lactation Support Policy, which provides guidelines to assist those who are lactating with the transition back to work or school following the birth of a child.
Hillary MacKenzie, the board's chairperson, said she remembers talking on the phone with a friend who worked in the district who would pump in her car. She said she knows that people will now have a clean, safe place to breastfeed.
The policy states that it is Orange County Schools' responsibility to designate space, privacy and time for nursing parents. The school or department must provide a private space that is not close to a restroom or other common area, or, if employees prefer, they may also breastfeed or express milk in their own private offices or other private locations.
“I know that our nursing parents, students and community members will really benefit from this, and it makes my mama heart proud,” MacKenzie said.
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