I agreed when Hillsborough County’s schools recently pushed the start of the new learning year back two weeks to Aug. 24. I believed then a short delay would give leaders time to make a more informed decision.
Well, they’ve had enough time, and here’s what they should do.
While many Florida districts delayed the start of the school year, Hillsborough needs to take it to the next level. Keep the doors shut and conduct classes online only for the first nine weeks.
It’s not ideal, of course, but it’s the safest thing for teachers, support staff, and students.
I don’t see how anyone can argue against that, but some will do it anyway.
Board Chair Melissa Snively, for instance, is a vocal advocate for returning students to the classroom.
But answer this: Why would anyone believe it is safer to open school buildings now than it was on March 17, when Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered all state schools closed?
Four Floridians had died from COVID-19 infections by that date. More than 6,000 have died in Florida since then, and the number of confirmed cases is approaching 500,000. Hospitals are strained to the breaking point.
The state routinely sets records for the number of deaths and infections.
And if classrooms reopen as normal in August, what happens when a teacher tests positive; you know it will happen. Will all the students taught by that teacher go into quarantine?
The economic and emotional hardship of the pandemic on parents is real, but I don’t buy the rationale that schools should open so parents can return to work. Are those people saying teachers need to be surrogate babysitters for households in a tough spot?
It doesn’t work like that.
Hillsborough’s current plan – which can be amended by the Board – allows parents to choose traditional classrooms, e-learning, or virtual school. The numbers have been running about 50-50 between online and in-person.
So, against the backdrop of a deadly virus, how do teachers pull that off if they have to be in the classroom and available online?
Oh, and those safety rules the district has in place are largely a fantasy. One-way hallways, for instance. Are you kidding me? People don’t even follow that rule at Publix, and leaders want us to believe a few hundred kids rushing to change classes will do any better?
There are simply too many moving parts and too much risk for school buildings to reopen this soon.
“If we lose a teacher because of COVID, that teacher can no longer teach,” Board member Karen Perez said at a recent meeting. “And if we lose a student because of COVID, that student can no longer learn. So where do we go from here?”
Yes, it’s inconvenient for some.
It’s also inconvenient to spend time in an ICU. Or to lose a child, spouse, or other loved one because the schools caved to political and social pressure to reopen when safety is at risk.
The Republican National Convention was scrubbed in Jacksonville over COVID-19 concerns, but it’s safe to reopen schools?
A Citizens Advisory Committee recommended that buildings should stay closed for at least the first nine weeks. The National Teachers Union told members it is OK to go on strike if they face a forced reopening.
Also, there is this: What happens when many teachers decide to walk away instead of returning to the classroom?
It could happen, you know. That could be devastating for Hillsborough, which faces a hiring freeze over a shortfall in budget reserves.
The choice is obvious.
Waiting nine more weeks won’t kill anyone.
Rushing too soon, though, just might.