Pasco County Schools on Tuesday became the first Tampa Bay area district to announce a return this fall to the way classes were held before the pandemic.
The live-remote instruction that about 30 percent of students have continued to receive through MySchool Online will end after this semester, superintendent Kurt Browning told families in a YouTube recorded message and an email to homes.
“Based on recent positive trends, we expect there will no longer be the need for MySchool Online,” Browning explained in the video. “We expect the vast majority of our students to be back in the classroom for in-person learning, and for our employees to return to the classroom or office.”
Students will continue to have independent virtual courses available to them through Pasco eSchool or Florida Virtual School. But, unlike MySchool Online, those classes are not live and are are not delivered by teachers from a student’s regular school.
Other area districts have suggested they also expect to take this route.
Hillsborough County superintendent Addison Davis has said that he does not expect to continue offering his district’s live-remote courses through each school, either.
Pasco, though, is the first school system in the area to make it official. District spokesman Steve Hegarty said the reason for sending the information out now was clear.
“We think that it’s important the parents know what next year will look like,” Hegarty said. “They’ve been asking.”
The decision appeared to follow the state’s trajectory on schooling, he added.
Education commissioner Richard Corcoran’s emergency order to continue full funding for the remote-live model expires at the end of the spring semester, and Corcoran and Gov. Ron DeSantis have made clear their view that in-person classes are superior to online ones.
At the same time, vaccinations are becoming more readily available. DeSantis issued an executive order to provide the shot to anyone who is eligible to receive one, and the Pasco district has scheduled two more sessions to provide doses to employees in the coming weeks.
“We’ve done everything that we can,” Hegarty said. “We expect employees to do their part, as well.”
Combine those factors with a declining death rate and positive case counts in the schools, the shrinking of social distancing guidelines for classrooms and the struggles that many students have experienced learning from home, and the action made sense to Pasco district leaders, he added.
The district has not yet determined whether it will end its mask requirement.
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Immediate feedback to the district’s announcement was disappointment among those who still used MySchool Online.
At the same time, though, came the acknowledgment that the district faces financial and related restrictions that contribute to the move.
Lisa Izatt has four children attending the online program in elementary, middle and high school grades. She said she felt conflicted by the district’s action — in particular because it came so early.
“We don’t know what it’s going to be like in August,” said Izatt, who lives in Holiday.
If she had information proving the pandemic had truly abated, she said, sending her children back to campus might seem more acceptable. After all, she said, the online classes haven’t been easy for her children.
They’ve struggled with their grades, the technology hasn’t always worked, and not all teachers have found the best way to teach in-person and online students simultaneously.
“At the same time, we’re very concerned about the public health and public safety requirements that are not existing anywhere,” Izatt said, adding she planned to continue researching best options for her family.
On social media, responses were mixed.
Some teachers suggested the remote model was problematic, as many students did not regularly participate. Others said they found the approach benefited some of their students.
“I love teaching online; some of these kids do really well with it and it accommodates different situations each student may have going on at home,” teacher Johanna Falzone wrote on Facebook.
While many lamented the looming end to remote instruction attached to specific schools, others celebrated its end. One person deemed MySchool Online a “disaster” that she hoped would “die in a fire.”
“It was a Band-Aid,” wrote parent Andrea Monge. “I think some kids did do really well and maybe it should be an option, but how it is now won’t work.”