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Pasco students not ‘locked in’ to school reopening choices

Parents are supposed to turn in their preferences by the end of Wednesday.
Pasco County parents have until the end of July 8, 2020, to submit their preference for in-person or remote learning when classes resume in August.
Pasco County parents have until the end of July 8, 2020, to submit their preference for in-person or remote learning when classes resume in August. [ JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK ]
Published Jul. 8, 2020|Updated Jul. 8, 2020

Kelly Thomas had some specific questions for the Pasco County School Board.

The school district had given families until the end of July 8 to say whether their children would attend classes in-person, live remote or virtually. Yet officials hadn’t yet provided some key details, to her mind.

“One question automatically, going back to traditional schools, are the children going to be required to wear masks?” the Wesley Chapel mom asked Tuesday during the board’s telephonic meeting. “I know the deadline is tomorrow for us to make choices.”

She said she worried about making a decision, and then wanting to change based on answers she didn’t have.

Superintendent Kurt Browning said he didn’t want to set a mask rule just yet. The staff has written guidelines for a mandate, as the School Board requested in late June, but Browning said the situation is changing too rapidly to act now.

“It would be my preference that we watch and be fluid and make a decision as we get closer to the time when school opens,” he said.

Related: Pasco schools inch closer to mandatory masks

But he did provide a different assurance.

“You are not going to be locked in” to the instructional model turned in Wednesday, Browning told Thomas. “If you choose Option 1 or Option 2, there is nothing that precludes you from changing that option throughout the school year.”

Option 1 is the fully in-person model. Option 2 is to attend your usual school, but remotely with other students and a teacher who are also live online.

The two will be run within the same schools, and follow the same curriculum. So they should be interchangeable as family needs might dictate, he said.

By contrast, families that choose the independent virtual school model would have fewer options to switch. The courses, teacher assignments and funding model are distinct and separate from the others.

Related: Pasco’s school reopening plan: three options for parents

Assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley said the three choices appear to be “very consistent” with state reopening guidelines, and he had no concerns about needing to revamp them. Still, district officials made clear that they want to have parent responses this week so they can send the correct numbers of teachers and other employees to the right places.

Board member Megan Harding said her email in-box had been flooded by parents wanting to know about masks and other issues that matter to them as they make their selections.

She stressed that the board had been clear in its desire to require masks if health conditions do not improve. But she added that, with the administration having gone on record stating that parents can change their schooling choices for their children, not having an immediate mask rule was more acceptable.

The message was personal for board chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin.

“I know, too, that parents feel anxiety about choosing an option (Wednesday) because I am one of those parents,” she said. “I’m confident that our school-based staff is going to work with families to address their concerns and, if they need to make changes in the schedule, I’m confident that our leaders in our schools are going to do what’s best for students, and that’s what parents really want to know and want to hear.”

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