Hillsborough County Schools will start first four weeks of school year online

Distance learning online education. A schoolboy boy studies at home and does school homework. A home distance learning
Cindy Stuart and Melissa Snively were the only no-votes.

The Hillsborough County School Board voted 5-2 at a special meeting Thursday to start the first four weeks of the school year online. 

“We know that when children are in front of us there are signs that we can really recognize stress and trauma, every single day,” Hillsborough County Superintendent Addison Davis said about brick-and-mortar schooling. “If we transition to four weeks, we’re going to have to continue to make certain that we address students with disabilities….”

Board members Cindy Stuart and Melissa Snively dissented, voting against the motion to start the school year online.

“In this plan, and in this presentation, we don’t put students first,” Stuart said. “We’re not set up to do this blended model…. There are not plans in place for the underserved children.”

School will still start on Aug. 24, but all students will start the first four weeks of the school year online, even if the student previously selected the option to start the year in traditional brick-and-mortar schools. 

Davis originally proposed a nine-week online start, but the board voted to amend the proposal from nine weeks to four. The board will meet again Sept. 8 to review the status of the pandemic with the Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Medical experts from Tampa General and USF Health spoke at the meeting Thursday to help guide the decision in regards to the coronavirus pandemic. The consensus: With the current numbers in the county, opening schools could prove risky. 

In early July, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an executive order requiring school districts to give parents the option to send students to brick-and-mortar schools five days a week. The order sparked backlash from teachers across the state who are not yet comfortable going back to school because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The order requires districts to send a reopening plan to be approved by the Florida Department of Education. The department approved Hillsborough County’s reopening plan. With this approval, the district is not able to make changes to the plan but is able to delay the plan’s implementation with proper consultation and suggestions from health experts. 

Davis also provided an update to student intent. About 84% of the school district has now responded — 153,796 students — as of Thursday morning. 

Of the 182,322 students enrolled in the district, 76,112, or 42%, opted for brick-and-mortar schooling, 67,938, or 37%, chose e-learning and 9,746, or 5%, enrolled in Hillsborough County Virtual School. About 28,500, or 16% of the district, still have not responded. But, with the new plan to delay opening traditional schools, numbers could shift. 

The board also provided an update on instructional staff preferences. Of the staff respondents, 6,888, or 58%, are prepared to go to brick-and-mortar schools, 4,513, or 38%, opted for e-learning, and 432, or 3%, will continue with Virtual School. About 1%, or 109 teachers, have decided to take leave, resign or retire. Davis noted that more than 3,000 staff have not responded. 

Hillsborough County currently has 31,432 positive Florida resident COVID-19 cases. Of those cases, 7,424 are under the age of 24, or about 24%. This breaks down to 681 cases for children under four, 1,428 cases of children aged 5 to 14 and 5,315 cases in the 15 to 24 age range. 

On July 23, the School Board voted unanimously to delay the start of the school year by about two weeks, moving the first day from Aug. 10 to Aug. 24. 

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected].


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