We are pleased that we have been able to offer a hybrid model of learning that includes a combination of in-person learning and virtual learning since August 24, 2020. Approximately 46% of our students chose the 100% virtual model while approximately 54% chose the hybrid that includes in-person and virtual modalities.  We have striven to maintain the in-person modality for as long as we can sustain such practice; however, the recent convergence of several data sets created a picture that suggests we can no longer safely sustain in-person instruction in a responsible manner that contributes to the greater good. Fortunately, throughout the year, staff have been improving all aspects of virtual learning that ensures that Orange County continues to provide students with learning that most closely resembles authentic engagement. The virtual learning of today is much more resilient than last year.

What data sets contributed to the realization that we can’t sustain an in-person modality during this surge of COVID-19 cases?

  • Workforce availability contributes to our ability to maintain operations. We have been juggling staff all year long given all of the variables COVID-19 has introduced; however, we have recently realized that the new surge in cases has affected us.
  • Community transmission and the subsequent burden from additional cases supports the manifestation of our workforce availability issues. It also supports our assessment of risk for students and employees. According to the CDC K-12 School Metrics the risk of transmission in schools is categorized as lowest, lower, moderate, higher, or highest with benchmark tolerances defining the boundaries of each aforementioned category. Using the CDC K-12 Metrics, data was presented to the school board at its January 4, 2021 school board meeting. Two core indicators specific to Orange County were presented: (a) Total number of new cases per 100,000 persons within the last 14 days and (b) Percentage of RT-PCR tests that are positive during the last 14 days. The first core indicator enters into the highest risk category when it exceeds 200 and the second core indicator enters into the highest risk category when it exceeds 10%.

What is the aforementioned CDC K-12 Metrics data?

To provide context for the data presented to the board let’s review the two core indicators (a) and (b) as defined above for Orange County on November 21, 2020. Orange County was at 166.5 new cases per 100,000 persons within the last 14 days and at a 6.1% RT-PCR positivity rate. The 166.5 figure placed us in a “higher” risk category for that indicator while the 6.1% placed us in a “moderate” risk category for that indicator. Therefore, at that time we believed operating our schools was safe and manageable for all.

Let’s fast forward to December 22, 2020. On December 22, 2020 we realized that we were at 382.1 (highest risk) and 9.9% (higher risk). With these numbers, we still believed that we could be operational, but we knew we must watch the numbers over the winter break. Lets review how these data progressed within the two indicators of cases and positive tests as follows:

December 23, 2020: 406.6; 11.0%

December 24, 2020: 455.7; 11.2%

December 25, 2020: 463.9; 11.6%

December 26, 2020: 461.2; 12.3%

December 27, 2020: 466.7; 12.4%

December 28, 2020: 447.5; 12.9%

December 29, 2020: 447.5; 13.0%

December 30, 2020: 469.4; 13.0%

December 31, 2020: 507.6; 13.0%

January 1, 2021: 548.5; 13.0%

January 2, 2021: 554.0; 13.0%

January 3, 2021: 597.6; 14.5%

January 4, 2021: 624.9; 14.3% (date of the school board meeting)

January 5, 2021: 649.5; 14.5% (date of today’s blog post)

These metrics are not only consistently within the “highest” category of risk for community transmission, but they are trending upward. While we are not suggesting that our schools contribute to the transmission of COVID-19 within our community, as we do have proven successful mitigation strategies, we are suggesting that such high community transmission could place employees and students unwittingly at risk due to being a part of a form of congregating.

We will continue to monitor these two indicators, the ability to provide a workforce, and what such trends support a responsible re-entry back to face-to-face activities.

In the meantime, we maintain a commitment to keep the education of our students as a top priority through a model of continuous improvement of our craft. We continue to eliminate barriers for those students within the virtual learning modality by providing teachers with more equipment to manage virtual learning. This equipment includes devices that utilize iPads to follow a teacher’s movements while they simultaneously instruct students in-person and virtually. We have also purchased hotspots for students who have no access to broadband.

Finally, our last resort is to move to 100% virtual learning and disrupt families’ and employees’ lives, but when presented with health and safety issues we believe we must accept the reality maturely and responsibly. We would much rather everyone have their exact modality of learning and extracurricular activity participation as they desire. In a perfect world it’s easier to find that nexus. In the pandemic we have to find resiliency and grace.