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Pinellas County’s first day of school: Here’s how the morning went.

Officials hope their plan for optional masking will keep coronavirus at bay.
Jeremiah Marbrey, 12, (right) arrives along with other students at Bay Point Middle School for the first day of school for Pinellas County students, Wednesday, August 11, 2021 in St. Petersburg.
Published Aug. 11, 2021|Updated Aug. 11, 2021

WEIGH IN HERE: Are you a parent or teacher? Tell us how you’re feeling about the first day of school.

ELSEWHERE: Here’s how Tampa Bay’s other school districts reopened on Tuesday

Q&A: Answers to your questions about kids, school and the delta variant

A NEW START: Back to school 2021 — In Tampa Bay, classes to start with fewer restrictions

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Pinellas County is one of 10 Florida school districts reopening today for the 2021-22 academic year.

The district set the stage Monday, deciding at a special workshop to stay with its plan to recommend masks in schools rather than require them. Some had pressed the School Board to take stronger action as the coronavirus delta variant gains strength in Florida, causing a record number of infections.

But with top state officials pressuring districts to shun mask mandates, Pinellas backed away.

As yet another school year starts amid the pandemic, Tampa Bay Times journalists are checking the pulse on campuses throughout the county. Read their reporting, along with other happenings, here:

12:10 p.m.: It’s the first day, so ...

In a large public school system the first week or two of the year becomes a settling out process, with new registrations and schedule changes. Eventually, most everyone finds their way to the right place.

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11:30 a.m.: A focus this year on electronics

The district says it’s launching the first of its kind electrician training program offered in Spanish and English this year. According to a summary: “Program participants will complete language training, while mastering the skills of an electrician and completing the program as bilingual electricians.”

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11 a.m.: It’s back to school for some adult students, too

The district is expanding some of its career and technical programs this year, including at its Pinellas Technical College campuses.

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10:25 a.m.: Hoping to be more involved

With fewer restrictions this year, school activities are in play again.

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10:10 a.m.: Age 11, waiting for the vaccine

Until then, the mask is on, with parental support.

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9:45 a.m.: ‘We have to push through’

Circling back to St. Petersburg High, Jireh Katende is focused on making the most of her senior year.

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9:25 a.m.: Gov. DeSantis is coming to Pinellas this morning

This is a big comeback story for the district. Lakewood Elementary, previously a perennial D and F school, is in a much better place.

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9:10 a.m.: Kindergarten was on a laptop. First grade, the real deal.

It’s a common story in the COVID era — kids who started their school careers online and are just now seeing what a classroom is like in person. Good luck, Madison.

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9 a.m.: She came bearing gifts

Jaxson’s teacher at Skycrest Elementary is getting some big help with supplies.

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8:40 a.m.: ‘I don’t want to have COVID again’

A Skycrest Elementary parent hopes people wear masks.

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8:25 a.m.: Did you know?

Pinellas is Florida’s eighth-largest school district. Here are some other facts* from the Times’ back-to-school section, where you can compare Pinellas with Tampa Bay’s other districts.

Students: 96,068

Teachers: 6,604

Support staff: 4,744

Administrators: 484

Average teacher salary: $52,187

Budget: $1.67 billion

Schools: 76 elementary, 2 K-8, 19 middle, 17 high, 20 charter

* Sources: Florida Department of Education, Pinellas County Schools. Based on the 2020-21 school year.

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8:05 a.m.: A look at the new digs

St. Petersburg High, built in 1926, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A major renovation there is expected to be complete this year, the district says.

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7:55 a.m.: Meet the principal

Clearwater High’s Eric Krause is one of many new principals in Tampa Bay. Check out the full list in the Times’ back-to-school section.

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7:50 a.m.: The quick drop-off

Skipping the car line is one of many traditions at St. Pete High.

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7:45 a.m.: At Clearwater High, happy to be there in-person

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7:35 a.m.: It’s not all about COVID

Pinellas ushers in the school year with a number of new initiatives. Here are a few:

  • To improve digital access, thousands of students in grades 3 through 10 are being provided Dell laptops for use at home and in school. Families without reliable internet service can check out WiFi hotspots.
  • 25 elementary schools will provide all-day Voluntary Prekindergarten.
  • Lunches will be free throughout the year for all students, thanks to increased federal government assistance. Breakfast was already free.
  • The career and technical education sector has new offerings, including an optometric assisting training program at Pinellas Technical College – St. Petersburg and an electrician training program offered in Spanish and English.
  • A number of construction projects will start or wend their way toward completion. Some examples: major renovations at Clearwater, Lakewood and St. Petersburg high schools; Tyrone Middle School; and Pinellas Central and Seventy-Fourth Street elementary schools.
  • A bolstered mental health staff includes a new 10-person “mental health triage team” to support students, particularly with issues related to COVID-19.
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7:25 a.m.: Here’s the plan

Education reporter @JeffSolochek is starting the day at St. Petersburg High, which is undergoing a major renovation. Breaking news reporter @Michaela_Mull is at three schools — Clearwater High, Skycrest Elementary and Dunedin Highland Middle. We’ll also be following Times photographers @MarthaARhine and @cliftimestweet.

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7:10 a.m.: Why, hello Dr. Grego

It wouldn’t be the first day of school without a visit from the superintendent. No pressure.

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6:15 a.m.: Troubled waters

Just like Tuesday — when Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties started classes — we begin with excerpts from the Times’ online questionnaire about the first day of school. Here’s what some parents had to say:

“I am feeling anxious and defeated. After a year of my children not attending in-person school, we had hopes that vaccinations would significantly decrease the rates of infections and allow us to be more confident about sending our children back to their public school.”Hajar Kadivar, M.D., Master of Public Health, St. Petersburg

Fears “administration will bully students who choose not to mask. ... The news should stop being obsessed with COVID. When this is all my child sees, it’s all they know to think. Focus on the good, the true and the beautiful.”Gordon Baker, Tarpon Springs

“The anxiety over this whole mess is eating me alive. ... I don’t even know how to explain why leadership won’t even require masks at the minimum. At least my kids are learning about the appropriate times to stand up to authority and not be bystanders in the face of danger, but that is about the only positive of this whole situation.” Sari Wood, Dunedin

Looking forward to in-person classes starting again but concerned about forced masking. “I don’t want my kids wearing masks. ... Parents deserve a choice.”Brittany Clifford, Pinellas County

“I’m scared and angry, but have to put on a happy face for my kids. ... This ban on masks and the Pinellas County School Board decision to uphold it blows my mind. ... All of our vigilance since the start of the pandemic feels like it was for nothing at this point.”Amanda Moore, St. Petersburg

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