LUTZ — Paper report cards have been a part of Maylinn Nolan's life for as long as she can remember.
She brought them home as a child, handing them to her waiting father, who saved them all and returned them as a wedding gift years later. Now, as a mom, Nolan has awaited the grade reports from her son Tristen, who completes seventh grade at Buchanan Middle School this week.
"It's tradition," said Nolan, a former kindergarten teacher who left the job to care for her own children.
One that's about to change in the Hillsborough County School District.
Starting this month, parents of Hillsborough middle and high school students will have to go online to find their children's quarterly and semester grades. Those wanting the paper version will have to make a special request.
Hillsborough is the first district in the area to go paper-free for all secondary report cards. Some Pinellas County high schools use them, while schools in Pasco and Hernando counties continue to print and send out the reports.
Pasco schools plan to offer electronic report cards next year.
Hillsborough's decision was one of economics and logistics. District leaders are looking to cut spending, and sending home tens of thousands of report cards isn't cheap. Compounding the issue, not all mailed report cards made it to their destination.
"This actually solves a problem for us," district chief information and technology officer Anna Brown said. "We had a large number of report cards returned in the mail. It was close to 50 percent."
To be more effective and efficient, Brown said, the switch made sense.
The change shouldn't be too jarring, Nolan suggested.
"With Edsby, you already know what their grades are," she said, referring to the district's online portal that parents and students use to check assignments and scores. "I can go online and print it out."
The report cards won't be on Edsby, Brown said, but that site and others will direct families to a more secure online portal where the report cards will be posted.
With computers, smartphones and other devices so ubiquitous, and access as easy as going to the local library or finding a Wi-Fi hotspot, Brown anticipated most families will welcome the new mode.
The Sarasota County School District has seen positive acceptance of its electronic report card system, spokesman Scott Ferguson said.
Sarasota students in all grade levels get online report cards if they're registered with the district's parent portal. They can ask for a printed version, Ferguson said, but "very few parents have selected that option."
Instead, the numbers of families signing up for the portal continues to grow, he said. Participation has risen to nearly 70 percent, saving the district money and getting report cards to parents a week earlier than printing and delivering them.
Anyone who doesn't have a registration, meanwhile, automatically gets a printed report card.
Miami-Dade County schools also make report cards available to all students online, providing printed ones upon request.
The question of access is one that parent Jill Rintoul, who has children at Randall Middle and Newsome High, raised as her only potential concern.
"I personally love the idea," she said. "The way our lives run on social media and electronics, there's no reason we shouldn't be getting these electronically, anyway."
But as an active school volunteer, Rintoul noted that many parents don't regularly get or accept the district's calls, emails and letters. They might not see the ones that provide their children's personal identification number to look at the report card.
By the same token, they might not see the printed report cards, either, she added.
"As long as there's something to cover those who may not have" a way to get the online version, she said, it's a sensible idea.
Such worries stopped the Duval County School District from adopting paperless report cards.
"We do not issue report cards electronically at this time," spokeswoman Laureen Ricks said. "This is due to a concern in our community regarding technology access."
Brown said that Hillsborough schools will be prepared to deal with calls and visits over the summer, as parents who don't get report cards realize it and want to know what's going on. They can either request their child's PIN be sent to them in an email or a text message or ask for a printed report card.
If they have proper identification to prove they're the parent of record, Brown said, the information should come quickly.
The district is still looking at how it will distribute state test results, which are separate from report cards, she added. Brown was hopeful the district will integrate those into the online system.
"This is the wave of the future," she said. "We would like to be able to use this same delivery method" for as many student reports as possible.
Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. Follow @JeffSolochek.