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Hillsborough superintendent: Let’s delay school reopening by two weeks

With coronavirus cases rising, superintendent Addison Davis wants more time to plan.

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school superintendent Addison Davis said Wednesday he will seek approval to delay the start of the school year by two weeks, to Aug. 24.

The move follows similar announcements in communities facing rapid spread of the coronavirus. Earlier this week in Manatee County, the School Board pushed the start date from Aug. 10 to 17. Other districts, including Broward County, are contemplating all-virtual instruction at the start of the school year.

Davis also announced a partnership with Tampa General Hospital and the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine to add health care expertise to the school district’s reopening efforts.

The announcements followed a morning meeting of the State Board of Education at one of Hillsborough’s schools, Strawberry Crest High in Dover. Outside, teachers picketed, saying that if school opens too soon, students will not be safe and teachers will face even more risk of falling ill with the virus.

Protesters also greeted members of the Pinellas County School Board when they met on Tuesday in Largo to discuss their reopening plans.

In announcing both the health care partnerships and his revised timetable, Davis said, “one lesson the pandemic has taught the global community is that our plans must be fluid to ensure the best outcomes for our individual communities.”

Hillsborough County schools superintendent Addison Davis. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

The Hillsborough County School Board is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. Thursday to discuss the reopening plan. Boards do not vote at workshops. But they can signal their consensus, and plans are under way for an emergency board meeting on July 23.

“I think the superintendent made a very thoughtful decision to recommend this to the School Board,” chairwoman Melissa Snively said. “I look forward to discussing it at the workshop tomorrow and hearing from my constituents.”

Hillsborough County School Board chairwoman Melissa Snively [Times (2015)]

Details must be worked out with the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. Davis said he wants to end the school year on time, which is May 28, 2021, by the latest calendar. Doing so could mean canceling some student holidays or teaching full days when students were to be released early for teacher planning time.

Either way, Davis said, teachers will be paid on time. An email went out to staff, saying that even though students might not return until Aug. 24, employee start dates have not changed.

Davis said the district plans to conduct a lot of staff training during those August weeks to help ensure a safe start when students return.

He also said he is giving families two additional days to indicate whether their children plan to attend brick-and-mortar school or virtual school. The new deadline is midnight on July 19.

“This school year presents unprecedented challenges because of COVID-19,” he said in his announcement, which focused primarily on the medical partnerships. “And we’re so pleased that two of the area’s preeminent medical institutions have agreed to collaborate with us to provide the safest back-to-school environment possible.”

In recent weeks, Florida has been shattering records for the number of new coronavirus infections, with hospitals filling and parents panicking about whether they should send their children to school buildings or have them learn remotely.

The numbers on Wednesday from the state Department of Health were similarly grim: 112 coronavirus deaths in a single day and a record increase in hospitalizations, with 458 new admissions. Since March, there have been 19,659 hospitalizations. The state reported 10,181 new coronavirus cases since Tuesday.

In Hillsborough, 21,018 coronavirus cases, including 195 deaths, have been recorded since March.

Krista Schilling, center, an art teacher at John Hopkins Middle School, St. Petersburg joined a demonstration Tuesday to oppose plans for a possible return to campuses in Pinellas County this fall. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

There was no word Wednesday on whether other Tampa Bay area school districts will delay their starts. The Pasco County School Board meets on Tuesday, and the subject could come up at that time.

In Pinellas, spokeswoman Isabel Mascarenas said superintendent Mike Grego “is in daily contact with Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County.” She also noted that Grego said Tuesday that the district’s plan is fluid and can be adjusted.

The Hernando County School Board has called a special meeting Monday to review its reopening plan and mask rules.

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