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Want to go back to school? Pinellas officials will ‘give it our best shot.’

Safety is the primary concern as the district fields requests from families wanting to switch from online learning to in-person classes.

Christie Bruner’s daughter has spent the first quarter of the school year taking her Bay Point Middle classes from home.

When Bruner looked into sending her child back to campus for the second nine weeks, she got an unexpected message.

“The administration said they don’t know if they will have room in all the classes,” Bruner said via Facebook Messenger.

Superintendent Mike Grego said some schedule changes might not work. Several factors come into play, such as teacher availability.

But the district’s medical advisory panel has given the green light to bring students back, he said, as long the district remains true to efforts such as mask use and social distancing.

“It is our goal to accommodate every student’s request,” Grego said, noting that many students will benefit from in-person learning. “We’re going to give it our best shot.”

Bruner said she understood the message coming from the schools. They’re not over-promising as they weigh the numbers of children asking for changes against their ability to serve them.

It’s just not what many parents anticipated when they first signed up for MyPCS Online, the district’s e-learning program.

In its initial explanation of the program, the district told parents they should stick to online schooling at least through Oct 23.

“Families will be able to extend this option each quarter so long as it is offered,” it continued, “or can decide to return to the traditional option upon completion of any quarter.”

To many people, that meant they would have unquestioned access to on-campus classes between quarters. They had little reason to doubt it, as they watched children move freely between the two models during the first nine weeks.

Grego recently told the State Board of Education that the district approved more than 4,600 schedule changes in that time period.

But when parents started laying the groundwork to send their kids back — the official application to change assignments went online Wednesday with an Oct. 6 deadline — several learned they would be placed on waiting lists while school administrators determined whether space would be available.

Parent reactions have ranged from disbelief to full anticipation this could happen.

“Not sure how there COULD be room, if social distancing were kept in place,” Dawn Goddard of St. Petersburg told the Tampa Bay Times via Facebook.

Some schools had no such concerns, quickly telling parents their children could come back with the new quarter. And by the time the next period begins, district spokeswoman Isabel Mascareñas said, all might be accommodated.

“We don’t know how many students want to come back,” she said. “We may be able to offer it to everyone.”

At the School Board’s Sept. 22 meeting, Grego said he was walking a tightrope on this topic.

“We don’t want people to be miserable given their circumstances,” he told the board. “However, we also put this caveat over all of it: We need to keep the safe environment first and foremost.”

Social distancing is critical to limiting any virus spread, he said, so the goal is to keep classroom student counts at 15 to 20, depending on grade level.

“We’re still in the middle of this pandemic,” Grego stressed. “It is not gone, and we need to continue to provide those safeguards.”

Some board members said they had received calls and emails from parents, concerned that they weren’t getting what was presented. It’s a similar complaint to those received when families and teachers learned online and in-person students would be mixed into the same classes, rather than taught independently as originally stated.

Board chairwoman Carol Cook said she had understood the model to allow families to make changes without restriction after nine weeks. She also recognized the importance of following medical advisers' input in making such decisions.

She said she planned to look into the issue further.

Mascareñas said the district received updated feedback from its medical group this week before announcing its approach.

“It is a fluid situation, as we’ve always said,” she noted.

The district has not yet determined how it will deal with this topic at the end of the first semester. That includes answering the question whether MyPCS Online will remain in place.

“We plan to continue with the MyPCS option as long as the governor’s executive order allows us to,” Mascareñas said.

Families that want to apply for second quarter reassignment have until 11:59 p.m. Oct. 6 to do so. The district intends to respond to the requests by Oct. 19.

Parents not seeking to change their options do not have to fill out any forms.

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