LAND O’ LAKES, FL — At least one Tampa Bay school district won’t be sending students back to school April 10.
Pasco County School Superintendent Kurt Browning recommended a two-week delay to the start of the school year, with students returning to school on Aug. 24 instead of Aug. 10. Teachers will return to work on Aug. 17.
The school board unanimously approved Browning’s recommendation at Tuesday’s Pasco County School Board meeting. Pasco is the first Tampa Bay school district to delay the start of the school year. The Hillsborough County School Board is expected to make a similar decision on Thursday.
The decision comes two days after a popular Seven Springs Middle School sixth-grade teacher died from the coronavirus.
“Here in Pasco County, we share the health and safety concerns being expressed by parents, students and teachers,” said Browning who was also diagnosed with the coronavirus over the summer. “The recent death of one of our teachers makes the potential dangers even more real. Still, we are doing our best to comply with the education commissioner’s order that schools open their classrooms in August. We have offered parents three choices, including two options that involve online learning. Now it is our job to provide as safe a campus environment as possible.”
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On July 6, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an order that school districts reopen brick-and-mortar schools five days a week starting in August to qualify for state funding.
Since then, parents, teachers and administrators throughout Tampa Bay have been debating the wisdom of sending students back to brick-and-mortar schools when coronavirus cases are on the rise in Tampa Bay.
Last week, when the board of education met at Strawberry Crest High School in Dover, teachers protested outside the school building, urging Corcoran to rescind his order and let them teach school online for at least another nine weeks.
Browning said his recommendation to delay the start of school two weeks came after the district received hundreds of emails and phone calls on the subject. He said the two-week delay will give teachers and students more time to prepare for their return to school.
But not all Pasco County students will be heading to the bus stop on Aug. 24. Some parents say they don’t feel comfortable sending their children back to school despite safeguards the school district is putting in place to halt the spread of the coronavirus. They prefer one of the two online options.
Other parents lauded the school board for the two-week reprieve.
“Thank you, Pasco County Schools,” Shannon Niles commented. “I feel you’re making this decision to help ensure a safer opening. Personally, keep extending until you feel necessary.”
Kate Horrigan said she’s also grateful that the board decided to reopen schools, even if it’s two weeks later than planned.
“My daughter is in pre-K and she has autism,” said Horrigan. “She really needs the socialization and routine of going to school. I feel like everyone who’s complaining about them opening should calm down. You have a choice. So let other parents make theirs.”
Others parents were skeptical.
“I wonder what’s going to change in two weeks,” Nikki Fortuna said.
“How is two weeks really going to help?” agreed Dave Sonsol.
Details of the school reopening plan are available in the Reopening Pasco County Schools Guide.
Browning is recommending that all students, teachers, staff and visitors wear face masks. The school board is scheduled to vote on the face mask mandate at its July 28 meeting.
The proposed rule describes what qualifies as a mask or face covering and under what circumstances the mask can be removed. It also describes how the school district will make accommodations for students or staff members who have medical conditions that would prevent them from wearing a mask or face covering.
The guide also addresses the need for social distancing, cleaning protocols, the creation of an isolation room for students who show symptoms while at school and the creation of a daily staff screener.
This article originally appeared on the Land O’ Lakes Patch