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Dean Johnson Reviews APR Hot Topics, Covid in the Classroom

Dean Johnson | Published on 4/15/2021

It’s stating the obvious, but the covid pandemic has had a devastating effect on schools up and down the line. It “upended the whole field of education,” said Leslie Postal, an education reporter for the Orlando Sentinel.

An aspect that may not be as obvious came up during Wednesday’s League of Women Voters Orange County Hot Topics event, “Covid & the Classroom,” for which Postal served as moderator.  

Karen Willis, chief executive officer for the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County, said kids of pre-school age have, simply put, lost a year and that, she added, will have a ripple effect through the entire school system when classes are once again going full-tilt. Unlike public schools, early-learning centers stayed open all along during the pandemic but, Willis said, lost 40 percent of capacity. Such centers serve lots of children of first-responders and essential workers, who badly needed child care.

Maria Vazquez, deputy superintendent of Orange County Schools, said many parents delayed their children’s entry into kindergarten, which is likely to have another ripple effect on the system.

The panel agreed that students have been losing their daily socialization while teachers have had the challenge of blending school and home. Both teachers and students have had increased mental-health issues, facing stress and exhaustion at every turn.

Elsewhere, the coronavirus catastrophe has left a soupy swamp in its wake. Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, said teachers are making “the impossible possible every day,” but they are facing frustration every day, too. Both she and Vazquez are concerned about teacher supply come fall. Many teachers have taken early retirement or have begun different careers. Equally disturbing are the “missing students,” children who have neither shown up at brick-and-mortar schools nor enrolled in online classes. Fewer students in the system will also affect state funding.

Vazquez said that the school district has been providing services such as “calm rooms” and therapy for teachers and at-home guides, hotlines and other resources for parents. In addition, Orange County schools will be offering expanded summer programs this year for kids who have fallen behind,

Doromal said she hopes the state allocates enough money for education and that legislators don’t fiddle with counties having control of their own districts. “Tallahassee,” she said, “has been aiming a wrecking ball at public schools.”