Students in Pasco and Hillsborough counties are set to begin a new school year on Aug. 24, but not all of the students will be headed to campus.
In Pasco County, students have three options for learning — amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Some students are expected to arrive at Pasco campuses on Aug. 24, while others opt for two versions of online learning. In the mySchool Online version, students are connected virtually to their assigned schools. With Pasco eSchool, they have more flexibility in the schedule and pace of learning.
In Hillsborough County, classes begin on Aug. 24, with all students beginning the school year through online learning only, until campuses open for students on Aug. 31. Like Pasco, Hillsborough is offering three learning options — face-to-face instruction and two virtual approaches.
Of course, there’s nearly a week before school begins, so it’s not inconceivable that these plans could change again.
As of press deadline for The Laker/Lutz News, there were two legal actions pending over whether school districts must comply with Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s Emergency Order that requires a face-to-face learning option on public school campuses.
The school year is already starting later than initially planned, with both Hillsborough and Pasco starting on Aug. 24, rather than Aug. 10.
The Hillsborough County School Board then voted to begin the district’s school year with four weeks of online-only instruction.
That decision came after a panel of medical experts advised against reopening schools until the COVID-19 positivity rate declined to about 5%.
Corcoran, however, rebuffed Hillsborough’s temporary online-only plan.
Corcoran said Hillsborough’s new plan was inconsistent with the reopening plan the district previously had submitted to the state that had been approved.
Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis then took a trip to Tallahassee, to seek middle ground.
That didn’t work.
After Davis returned, the district announced that “state leaders rejected two different phased-in models our district proposed that would have delayed our brick-and-mortar opening while ensuring our most vulnerable student populations were served in a face-to-face capacity.”
So, Hillsborough’s school year will begin with one week of online, with brick-and-mortar campuses opening on Aug. 31, for students choosing that option.
Meanwhile, in Pasco County, the school district plans to follow its Aug. 24 opening plan.
However, the United School Employees of Pasco has filed a lawsuit, seeking return to online learning only, until the COVID numbers come down, per the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning and the Pasco School Board have stood behind the district’s reopening plan. Not following that plan, they have said, would jeopardize state funding.
The Florida Education Association’s motion for injunctive relief from Corcoran’s Emergency Order has been scheduled for mediation Aug. 18, and if necessary, for court hearings on Aug. 19 and Aug. 20.
The decisions being made at the state and school board levels have caused parents and teachers to make a variety of personal decisions.
Ben Langston, of Long Lake Ranch in Lutz, said he and his wife, Rene, decided to enroll their children, Connor and Avery, in a private school.
The Langstons had been planning to send the children to Oakstead Elementary, but switched those plans because of the uncertainty with what will happen with public schools.
They want Connor and Avery to have an in-school experience, rather than online, because they believe it offers a superior form of learning.
Cindy Smith, an art teacher at Land O’ Lakes High School, on the other hand, has made a different decision: She’s retiring after 31 years in Pasco County Schools.
“It was very difficult. It took me months to decide it,” said Smith, who taught Art 1 through Advanced Placement.
“I didn’t feel like it was wise to go to school and expose myself to the possibilities of COVID, at my age,” Smith said.
She doesn’t think that virtual teaching is effective for secondary art classes, although she said it would be a safer option until COVID-19 cases decline.
The teacher said she’ll miss teaching and her students.
“I’m sad about it. I’m sad for my friends. I’m sad for my students. How horrifying to think any one of them could die because of one person, or a few persons’ decisions,” Smith said.
She added: “I’m concerned that parents may not be taking this seriously enough.
“I don’t think they understand the hazards and the dangers and the concerns that we, as teachers, have. We love our students, we love our jobs, but to put us in a danger, death-threatening kind of situation is unreasonable,” Smith said.
Despite the focus on COVID-19, there also are other developments associated with beginning the 2020-2021 school year, and that includes the opening of Cypress Creek Middle School.
The new school, on Old Pasco Road, will serve students in grades six through eight.
Students who have been housed in a portion of Cypress Creek High School now will be moving to Cypress Creek Middle.
Other students previously assigned to John Long Middle, will join them, providing long-needed relief from crowding at John Long Middle.
Students from Wiregrass Ranch High also have been reassigned to Cypress Creek High, but the full effect of that boundary change won’t be immediately felt because the school district grandfathered the junior and senior class at Wiregrass Ranch.
Two new public charter schools also are opening this year, in Wesley Chapel — Pinecrest Academy Wesley Chapel in Avalon Park Wesley Chapel and Innovation Preparatory Academy in the Connected City area of Wesley Chapel.
Published August 19, 2020