TAMPA — With coronavirus cases growing steadily throughout Tampa Bay area schools, district leaders in Hillsborough County are about to get outside expertise in minimizing the spread through their buildings.
The district is finalizing a deal with a pair of consulting businesses that will provide guidance on air purification and surface decontamination.
Describing the project last week to a committee that oversees the district’s tax referendum fund, operations chief Chris Farkas said the arrangement appears unusual. In the interview process, he said, applicants for the contract said no other school district had sought their help.
The winning bidders were McKinstry and AMJR Sevices/Voltair Consulting Engineers. Payment terms are still being worked out, district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said. Work was expected to begin this week.
“The correlation between student achievement and student attendance is direct,” Farkas said. "So if we can keep kids in school and they’re not home sick, kids learn a lot more.''
The district has taken other steps to upgrade its sanitation methods as well, including the installation this year of air filters with the MERV 13 rating recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While the emphasis is on environmental safety, the district also is taking steps to encourage its virtual students to return to school buildings, which could cause them to become more crowded. A survey is planned, asking families if they would like to return; followed by a marketing campaign. Arja noted that even though there will likely be more students in the buildings, class sizes will still be limited by state law.
Since roughly half the district’s students returned to school on Aug. 31, there have been 892 confirmed coronavirus cases with the single highest number, 42, at Newsome High School in Lithia.
Monday was an especially busy day, with 55 cases reported in Hillsborough and 35 more in Pasco and Pinellas.