Students streamed back to Pasco County school campuses last week to begin the 2020-2021 school year, while Hillsborough County students headed to that district’s campuses this week.
The beginning of a new school year often is steeped in tradition, but this year is a year of new routines — in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Students are arriving on campuses wearing masks, and teachers standing near open classroom doors to greet them are wearing masks, too.
Lunch tables have been moved outdoors, to reduce crowding in cafeterias and to accommodate outside classes.
Signs remind people to keep their distance, and bottles of hand sanitizer are within easy reach to encourage everyone to keep their hands clean.
And, there are protocols.
Lots of protocols.
They spell out what schools should do when there’s a confirmed case of COVID-19 and what to do when one is suspected.
In Pasco County, a partnership has been forged between the school district and the Florida Department of Health’s Pasco office.
Health department staff members are working in two portables on school district property, so they can respond quickly to COVID-19 cases.
The district also has spent substantial money, time and energy to prepare campuses for the arrival of students and staff; and, it has ramped up cleaning schedules to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Hillsborough County school district also has increased cleaning efforts, to reduce potential spread of the virus.
Both districts also are using special care to disinfect school buses.
Pasco County Schools activated its dashboard last week, and as of 11:30 p.m. Aug. 28, the district had reported three student cases, one each at Fivay High School, Gulf High School and Moon Lake Elementary; and one employee case, at Lake Myrtle Elementary. (For more recent information, visit Pasco.k12.fl.us/news.
Hillsborough superintendent Addison Davis said that the district also will have a dashboard to keep the public informed.
The district just opened campus, on Aug. 31, so it was still too early to tell what kind of impact in-school classes would have, when The Laker/Lutz News went to press
Ray Gadd, deputy superintendent of Pasco County Schools, an educational professional for decades said: “This is definitely my first year like this.
“I think we’re going to have a great first day,” Gadd said, as he showed off Cypress Creek Middle School, on its inaugural opening day for students.
“I think our schools are well-prepared, and we’re looking forward to getting started and making the best of it,” Gadd said. But, he added, “I’d be lying, if I didn’t say I wasn’t worried about Day 2, Day 3.”
There were complaints about buses and technology on the Pasco school district’s Facebook page, but overall the district seemed to be off to a relatively smooth start.
Face-to-face instruction began this week in the Hillsborough school district, after a week of online only.
Based on social media chatter from last week, it looks like there were some complaints about problems with technology.
This week offers the first real test of the district’s preparations, as it welcomes the arrival of students and staff.
Hillsborough plans to work closely with its medical partners at the University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital, the superintendent said, during a recent school board meeting.
Like Pasco, Hillsborough has adopted numerous protocols intended to limit the spread of COVID-19 and to respond to known or suspected cases that arise.
Both Hillsborough and Pasco delayed their initial opening from Aug. 10, until Aug. 24.
Pasco chose to offer all three of its educational options on Aug. 24.
Hillsborough’s reopening plan shifted.
Initially, the school board adopted the superintendent’s plan to offer three learning options, starting on Aug. 24.
Then, after listening to a panel of medical experts, the board voted on Aug. 6 to delay implementation of Davis’ already state-approved plan, and instead offer online learning only for the first four weeks of school.
State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran reacted to that plan by telling the district that it had to justify any closing on a school-by-school, grade-by-grade and classroom-by-classroom basis, or jeopardize state funding.
Davis went to Tallahassee, in an attempt to find a compromise. The state rejected his proposals and, ultimately, the district opted to open online for one week and then to offer all three options, including brick-and-mortar instruction, at all of its schools beginning Aug. 31.
But then, Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled on a lawsuit brought against the state by the Florida Education Association, which was consolidated with other lawsuits brought against the state.
Dodson agreed with FEA’s contention that the state’s action — to require districts to open all brick-and-mortar schools by Aug. 31, was unconstitutional. Dodson said local school boards should have the power to make that decision.
The state appealed Dodson’s ruling, which automatically stayed his injunction, unless he decided to lift it. Dodson did lift it, essentially giving decision-making authority back to local school boards.
That decision prompted an emergency meeting of the Hillsborough County School Board on Aug. 28. Board members voted at that meeting to rescind their previous decision to open online only for four weeks, and instead to proceed with Davis’ most recent plan.
Meanwhile, the case between the FEA and the state continues on, and another lawsuit, filed by the United School Employees of Pasco, is pending.
Published September 02, 2020