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Hillsborough, Hernando reopen schools today

The school year is in full swing as two more Tampa Bay districts welcome kids to campus. Pinellas and Pasco counties started classes last week.
Students arrive for the first day of school for Hillsborough County students, at Hillsborough High School on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020 in Tampa.
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Students arrive for the first day of school for Hillsborough County students, at Hillsborough High School on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020 in Tampa. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Aug. 31, 2020
Updated Aug. 31, 2020

Classrooms in Hillsborough and Hernando counties will come alive this morning for the first time since March as thousands of students return to campuses.

The journey to this moment has been difficult for Hillsborough, the area’s largest district with more than 200,000 students.

A quick review: The 2020-21 school year originally was set to start Aug. 10. Then a July spike in coronavirus cases caused a delay until Aug. 24. More worries prompted a decision to start school on that date, but only online, with a return to campuses delayed until September. State officials nixed that idea, so Hillsborough delayed its return to campuses for only one week instead.

As recently as Friday, things were still in doubt. A legal ruling in Tallahassee prompted the School Board to again consider waiting until September to reopen campuses. But a board majority, fearing further disruption, voted to stay with their previous plan, which was already well in motion.

While many students are returning to campus, thousands of others have opted to continue with virtual learning as the pandemic continues. Pinellas and Pasco counties started online and in-person classes last week. Hernando is the only local district to wait until today to start classes of any kind.

Tampa Bay Times journalists are at several campuses monitoring this most unusual start of the school year. Follow along as we also track developments on social media:

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In recent weeks, Hillsborough School Board member Karen Perez pushed hard for campuses to open later. This morning, she offers a prayer.

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Hillsborough school superintendent Addison Davis unveils plans to get district employees tested. More details to come.

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Masks on, ready to go at Tampa’s Bryant Elementary.

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With students’ return to campus, the Tampa Bay Times has started tracking COVID-19 cases among students and staff in more than 500 schools, as reported to school communities by district leadership. These numbers do not include cases that were confirmed during the summer months or pre-planning weeks.

Our first weekly report, shown here, indicated 18 cases in Pasco and Pinellas counties, which opened their doors on Aug. 24. The Pasco district has a dashboard on its website, which it updates twice daily. In Hillsborough, Davis has announced there will be a public-facing dashboard as well.

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While Tampa Bay area districts are releasing a count of COVID-19 cases in schools, some Florida school systems are resisting. Should these records be public? Read Jeff Solochek’s morning education roundup to see what’s happening across the state.

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Hernando reports a problem on the virtual learning front.

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From Hillsborough School Board member Steve Cona III:

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Breakfast and a visit from the superintendent at James Elementary in Tampa.

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Gov. Ron DeSantis will be talking education this morning in Tallahassee. The Times’ @JeffSolochek will be listening in to see what he says.

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The virus is not the only school news today in Hillsborough. The district is opening Jule F. Sumner High School.

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Part of the first day drill is letting everyone see your style.

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At Burnett Middle School in Seffner:

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The governor and others are speaking now.

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At Burnett Middle:

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At Burnett Middle:

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Education commissioner Richard Corcoran breaks down some numbers.