School District Opts To Reopen Schools, Make Face Masks Mandatory

TAMPA, FL — The Hillsborough County superintendent of schools has announced that students and staff returning to public schools on Aug. 10 will be required to wear face masks.

After meeting with health officials, business leaders, teachers and school administrators, Superintendent Addison Davis said he believes masks are the best option at this time for keeping students and staff safe from the spread of the coronavirus on campus.

The district will provide three reusable face coverings for each student on the first day of school and three reusable face coverings for each staff member during back-to-school pre-planning.

“The CDC has identified face masks as one of the most effective tools in stopping the spread of COVID-19,” Davis said. “I believe face coverings is the best option we have for providing additional protection for everyone on our campuses.”

He said the county has already acquired 760,000 masks through purchases and donations.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has mandated that schools reopen for the 2020-21 year but left it up the school districts on how to accomplish this while protecting both teachers and students from the coronavirus.

Last month, Davis laid out three options for reopening schools ranging from traditional classroom teaching to all online learning for the school district’s 206,841 students and 15,162 teachers.

The A option would be business as usual with students back in the classroom in front of a teacher with rules in place for social distancing, including staggered bathroom breaks and lunch hours.

Additionally, schools will be disinfected daily and students will be given disinfecting wipes to clean their own desks and any other equipment they might have used that day.

Option B was a rotational model with students attending reduced-sized classrooms for a 10-day period followed by a period of online learning.

In scenario C, all students would be taught remotely using a combination of Internet instruction and printed lessons for students who have technological disadvantages.

Ultimately, Davis said the school district chose Option A based on a survey of parents.

“Our intent has always been to bring students back to school full time,” he said. “As an educator I believe face-to-face instruction with high-quality teachers is the most ideal education experience for most children.”

Parents are being given three choices under Option A:

  • Traditional face-to-face learning where students will return to the classroom with increased social distancing and other safety measures in place. Controlled movement will be in place where possible and mass gatherings, assemblies and field trips will be limited.

  • Hillsborough Virtual K-12, the newly established alternative to Florida Virtual School, is a school choice option for kindergarten through 12th-grade students. Hillsborough Virtual K-12 is a web-based curriculum taught by teachers from Hillsborough County, and is not the same as a school-based eLearning program. All students must enroll by July 24.

  • Students will receive eLearning full-time through their assigned school. Students will not physically attend school but will participate in a school-based distance learning program from home. Instructional delivery will include such strategies as live, virtual instruction, interactive videos and independent work. The school-based eLearning program will be taught by teachers assigned to the home school and will be delivered through Canvas, the district’s new Learning Management System (this replaces Edsby used in the previous year). Students will be expected to log in daily for attendance and must commit to a minimum of 18 weeks absent extenuating circumstances.

This eLearning option will include magnet schools. However, most magnet schools, like theater and culinary programs, are designed for in-person instruction so some magnet programs may be limited because the content doesn’t translate to virtual learning, Davis said.

As of June 22, the school district had received 800 applications to attend virtual school, an increase of more than 300 percent over last year.

Davis added that the choices are subject to change.

“Our reopening plan is fluid, and we will continue to make adjustments as we continue to monitor the spread of coronavirus in our community,” he said. “The spread of the coronavirus in our community has showed no signs of decreasing over the past three weeks.”

He said this could include revisiting the B option.

The school district received 52,883 responses from parents and 9,245 responses from staff.

Of those, 28,100 parents said they would be comfortable to very comfortable with the prospect of their child returning to school.

Another 24,783 parents said they would not be comfortable or somewhat uncomfortable.

Of the staff responding to the survey, 4,807 said they’d be comfortable to very comfortable returning to school while 4,501 said they would not be comfortable or would be somewhat uncomfortable.

In total, 45.5 percent of those responding to the survey said they’d be comfortable with a return to school; 12.2 percent were neutral; and 42.3 percent said they would not be comfortable.

Davis said the school district has extended the deadline for parents to turn in their choice to July 17. A list of questions and answers is available here.

“We are listening, and we have heard our parents who need clarity on our return to school options,” Davis said. “We are working on ways to make sure you have that clarity—including a virtual town hall meeting.”

David said the district will provide more information on the virtual town hall meeting later this week.

Families are encouraged to fill out the Declaration of Intent to select how their child will return to school in the fall. The deadline has been extended to July 17. If parents would like to change their selection, they can log in to the Declaration of Intent, select the CHANGE button, and submit their new choice.

“The Declaration of Intent is important for our schools, so we can obtain accurate information to make appropriate decisions for staff allocations,” Davis said.

Courtesy Hillsborough County School District

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This article originally appeared on the Tampa Patch

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