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Will other districts follow Hillsborough’s decision to delay in-person school?

Pinellas School Board members say they expect to have a similar debate next week.
The Pinellas County School Board, seen here in a meeting last year, will convene a special meeting Tuesday. Some board members say they would like to revisit the district's plans to reopen with a mix of in-person and virtual classes on Aug. 24.
The Pinellas County School Board, seen here in a meeting last year, will convene a special meeting Tuesday. Some board members say they would like to revisit the district's plans to reopen with a mix of in-person and virtual classes on Aug. 24. [ Pinellas County Schools ]
Published Aug. 6, 2020
Updated Aug. 7, 2020

Pinellas County School Board member Eileen Long learned of the Hillsborough County board’s move to postpone a return to classrooms by four weeks, and a light went off for her.

“I like that idea,” Long said Thursday. “I like it a lot.”

So much so that she expects to suggest that Pinellas schools do the same when the board meets next Tuesday.

Related: Hillsborough School Board votes to delay in-person classes

“I’m going to propose it and see what they do,” said Long, a retired teacher who has been raising concerns about the viability of bringing teachers and children back for face-to-face classes as Florida continues to report thousands of new COVID-19 cases each day.

She has a willing audience among at least some of her colleagues.

“I would anticipate this is exactly the kind of conversation that will take place,” said board member Nicole Carr, who also has expressed her own worries about implementing in-person schooling.

Many families have said they want to use the so-called “bricks and mortar” option, Carr noted. But they did so on the assumption that it will be a safe choice.

Related: How coronavirus is spreading in Florida

So far, many procedures have yet to surface indicating that safety — such as adequate social distancing — is possible, she said.

If Long doesn’t bring it up, Carr said, “I might make that motion. It’s likely. But there may be other options.”

Board member Lisa Cane said she, too, was willing to entertain the concept, especially if the district has no clear plans for dealing with things such as what to do once a person in school is tested positive for COVID-19. She also had questions about the ability to enforce mask use, which she suggested is more difficult for youngsters and their teachers than many realize.

Cane’s own summer youth theater camp shut down four days after masks were mandated, because of all the complications, she said.

“I do think for the beginning we should go to a virtual school option,” Cane said. “If we can postpone the live until this (virus) is in a better place in Florida, it would be better for all the students and teachers.”

Board chairwoman Carol Cook said she expected the debate to be lively. She wouldn’t commit either way.

“Our numbers are going down,” Cook observed. “Is there a reason for us to go virtual for a month? I don’t know.”

One thing was certain for her, though.

“We’re not going to do it just because Hillsborough did,” she said. “Pinellas will do what we think is best for Pinellas.”

For board member Bill Dudley, at least, that meant no change to the current plan.

“If I have my way, we’ll leave it the way it is,” Dudley said, referring to the three options provided to parents.

That appears to be the trajectory for the Pasco County School Board. It met on Tuesday and, when confronted by teachers demanding an online-only return, did not act.

Only one Pasco board member indicated support for a month-long delay of in-person instruction. The Pasco board does not meet again until Aug. 18, and it is set to begin classes Aug. 24.

“Anything is possible. But right now, we do not have a vote scheduled,” board member Cynthia Armstrong said. “We are giving parents options. ... Hillsborough took the options away from the parents.”

So if the conversation is to continue in the Tampa Bay area, look to Largo, where the Pinellas board is scheduled to convene at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

“Watch and listen,” Long said. “And pray.”

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