ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A surprise announcement from Orange County Public Schools late Monday afternoon has put many parents in a tough spot to start the new school year.

What You Need To Know

  • Orange Coumty students all will start school on August 10

  • Classes will be conducted via distance learning through August 20

  • Students registered for face-to-face learning return to campus August 21

  • Parents have varying opinions on the latest decision

After voting previously to push back the start of schools until August 21, the Orange County School Board announced that schools will start back on August 10, the original start date — but all distance learning from home.

On August 21, students whose parents selected face-to-face learning will report to their school campus. If parents did not make a selection, school officials will be contacting them to discuss the plan for their children to return.

Parents had a mixed reaction to the latest decision.

Jane Dunkelberger said it has been tough for her senior to decide to do distance learning. 

“She said, ‘Mom I may not ever set foot on campus at my school again,’ ” Dunkelberger said.

Both of her children are in high school. They ultimately decided to learn from home starting in August because of Dunkelberger’s 92-year-old mother, who lives with the family.

While Dunkelberger is able to work from home to facilitate that, many parents have to work outside the home again. Some of them were shocked by the switch back to the original start date and a 10-day period of all digital learning from home.

Hundreds of parents then commented on the district’s Facebook page, saying things like:

“I rearranged my work schedule and had appointments made that cannot be changed, for surgery and other things….This is beyond infuriating.” 

Another parent, who also is a teacher, said, “I have already made plans for my children to start on August 21 because I cannot be home with them while they do online school.”

But Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, said the district did not have a right to change the school start date in the first place. 

“By changing the date, they broke our contract,” Doromal said.

She said the change pushed back teachers’s first paycheck of the school year to September but starting school back on the original date fixes that. 

“The vast majority, I would say, are very relieved they’re getting that paycheck,” Doromal said.

The school district indicated in its announcement that the decision was made to get all parents and staff comfortable with the county’s digital LaunchEd platform, in case any schools have a COVID-19 outbreak. 

But that leaves many families in Orange County scrambling to figure out how to do distance learning for the first nine days of school. 

“There’s a lot of families who are working families, working two and three jobs and they have to go back,” Dunkelberger said. “They can’t stay at home….…and it breaks my heart.”

The county indicated late Monday that it did not have anyone available after they made the announcement to answer questions about concerns from parents who have already paid for childcare and summer camps from August 10-20.