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Joe Henderson: Hillsborough move to delay start of school year is smart

It’s a two-week delay before classes start, and at this point, it’s better than nothing.

There was a welcomed bit of sanity in the world of Florida public education Wednesday. Hillsborough County, home to the nation’s eighth-largest school district, may push the first day of classes to Aug. 24.

That’s the proposal from new Superintendent, Addison Davis. The School Board must approve, but I can’t imagine that will be a problem.

“It’s a smart move,” Board member Steve Cona said. “It buys us some time. It gives everyone a sense of relief as we tiptoe into the new school year.”

It’s a two-week delay, and at this point, it’s better than nothing. And it could be pushed back another week or two when the Board meets on Thursday. Certainly, that will be on the table for discussion.

This was after the Sarasota School Board voted Tuesday to delay the start of classes there until Aug. 31.

Now, none of this is as bold as some places. In Texas, for instance, Houston’s school year won’t start until Sept. 8, and then as online-only. In-person classes won’t start until Oct. 19.

But with intense pressure coming from Tallahassee and the Flori-DUH occupant of the White House, even these brief postponements allow teachers and administrators precious time to plan.

They will need every minute of preparation they can get.

Davis also announced a partnership between Hillsborough schools and Tampa General Hospital and USF Health. Together, they will review all safety measures in the schools and make recommendations.

Davis said their input will be “invaluable.”

The issue of in-person vs. online classes brought COVID-19 into the living rooms of Floridians everywhere with school-aged kids.

Most everyone agrees that in-person instruction is far superior to online-only. But when Donald Trump turned it from a public safety issue into a campaign rallying cry, things went south in a hurry.

He threatened to withhold federal funding for any district that didn’t open its doors. Problem is, he can’t do that. Then Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis seemed to minimize the threat of infection.

“I don’t think there’s anyone who can make an argument that this is especially risky for kids,” DeSantis said during a press briefing.

That overlooked how risky this could be to teachers, administrators, support staff, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers.

And don’t forget this one from the Governor:  “I’m confident if you can do Home Depot, if you can do Walmart, if you can do these things, we absolutely can do the schools.”

Enough, already!

The state Board of Education met Wednesday at Strawberry Crest High School in eastern Hillsborough. DeSantis dropped in, and so did protesters.

The Governor seemed to strike a softer tone. He acknowledged teachers and other employees need to feel safe. And parents need to have options.

“The last thing you want to do is just shove people in if they’re not comfortable,” DeSantis said.

But that’s the problem. Those on the front lines of education believe they’re in the familiar role as pawns to politicians’ whims.

Those politicians can talk really brave and bold, but they don’t have to stand in front of a classroom of potentially infected students.

Delaying the start of the school year doesn’t hurt anyone, and even a two- or three-week pushback might create a safer environment.

We all want kids back in the classrooms.

Above all, though, we want everyone to feel safe.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
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