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Orange County Schools Board discusses return to in-person classes, renaming schools

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Screenshot from the Orange County Schools Board of Education meeting on Monday, Jan. 8, 2021.

Following the return of kindergarteners and first graders to Orange County Schools classrooms last month, community members shared concerns about both virtual and in-person learning at a Monday Orange County Schools Board of Education meeting. 

At the meeting, many parents addressed delays in the restart of in-person instruction, noting the CDC’s guidance on how to proceed with a safe reopening of schools. Some criticized the county’s decision to allow school sports, even though the risk of transmission rates are higher than that of learning in a classroom. Students in all other grades will return to in-person learning in April.

Hilary Crittenden, the mother of two Orange County Schools students, said she's concerned about the effects of virtual learning on students in the district, including increased mental illness, a widening achievement gap and rising food security. 

At the meeting, she said she and other parents are losing faith in the Board. 

"We no longer know what to tell our kids," she said. "We're running out of ways to keep them motivated and engaged." 

Other parents said they understand the difficult position that the Board is in. 

“I sincerely thank the board members that supported the efforts to allow K through one (students) back into the buildings,” parent Jessica Farrell said. 

Board Chairperson Hillary MacKenzie said she is worried about the possibility of all students returning at once. She said the bulk of air purifiers that the county ordered for the schools will not arrive until the end of February, which increases her concerns for in-person classes.  

The Board also discussed in-person instruction options for students in transition years, such as sixth and ninth grade. Mackenzie said the Board will call another meeting in the near future to discuss a staggered return of students to school.

The Board then discussed renaming two schools named after Orange County residents with ties to slavery: C. W. Stanford Middle School and Cameron Park Elementary School. 

Many parents hoped the Board would consider renaming these schools in light of racial equity concerns. 

"Changing building names won't erase racial inequities, but not taking a very simple action like changing a building's name is allowing white supremacy to persist," Heather Redding, a mother of district students, said.

Three grandchildren of Stanford — James Stanford, Robin Mulkey and Edward Mann III — attended the meeting to address the issue. They said they were frustrated their family had not been contacted to discuss the renaming.

James Stanford said he is proud of his family's commitment to public service and that further investigation into his family’s history should be conducted before a decision is made about the renaming of the school.

The Board also recognized Black History Month through a moment of silence. In addition, Superintendent Monique Felder thanked the county’s school counselors and bus drivers for all their hard work during the pandemic.

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