TAMPA — Acting in concert with area school districts, the Pasco County School Board on Tuesday approved a two-week delay in the reopening of its schools.
Classes will now begin on Aug. 24, with teachers reporting to work on Aug. 17. The superintendents of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are proposing similar delays. And on Monday the Hernando School Board moved its start to Aug. 31, the latest date possible under Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s reopening order.
“Will two weeks make a difference? It might,” said Pasco board member Colleen Beaudoin. Like others on all the boards, she has received a flood of correspondence from parents and teachers. She said she is concerned about student learning loss; not just from the summer months, but also from the spring, when children around the state and nation were pushed abruptly into distance learning.
But, Beaudoin said optimistically, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 might subside in the coming weeks. And if it doesn’t, school employees will have that much more time to plan for a safe reopening.
The board also gave a nod of approval to a masking rule for students, although they will need to take a formal vote on masking at a future meeting.
School staff will look for opportunities to allow “mask breaks” when students can practice social distancing. If a student refuses to wear a mask, schools will work with the family. If compliance proves impossible, they will reassign the student to a distance-learning option.
Superintendent Kurt Browning said he does not want the mask issue to become a point of continued conflict. “My goal is not to have mask police in our schools,” he said. “We are moving too fast, too quickly, we have a lot to do and we’re not looking to fight over masks.”
Earlier in the afternoon, teachers and parents held a car parade in which they called for a virtual-only opening of the schools as long as the coronavirus remains a threat. The community is mourning the recent loss of Renee Dermott, a teacher at Seven Springs Middle School who succumbed to COVID-19.
School leaders, however, have held firm that the state order gives them no option but to offer families brick-and-mortar schools, five days a week.
The latest surveys, according to Browning, show that 67 percent want that option.