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Pasco parents pick in-person classes as deadline passes

Some schools still have not received responses.

A strong majority of Pasco County parents have told the school district that their children will return to classrooms when courses resume in August.

Nearly seven in 10 chose the traditional school option for the coming year, spokesman Steve Hegarty said, with just under a quarter selecting live remote lessons and the rest picking independent virtual school. The district has said that students will not be locked in to their selections, and may switch if needed.

That’s with 80 percent of families responding by the Wednesday deadline. School staffs will be reaching out to parents who did not answer the survey, which officials are using to plan where to assign teachers and other employees.

District leaders said they were pleased that teachers largely indicated a willingness to head back to classrooms for in-person schooling, if that’s where they are needed.

With nearly complete response, 46 percent said they preferred the traditional model, with another 34 percent saying they would accept either classroom or online classes. The remainder said they wanted to teach remotely.

Among non-instructional staff, 83 percent said they would return to their jobs, with 17 percent taking leave, resigning, retiring or claiming a medical reason for staying away.

In a video message to the district, superintendent Kurt Browning assured students, parents and staff that health and safety will be the No. 1 priority. The administration is working on detailed plans for daily operations, he said.

“We’ve got your back,” he said.

The live online model should be more like what families wanted in the spring, Browning continued, offering more structure and regular interaction with teachers. Those were among the lessons learned from the final quarter.

He acknowledged the frequently changing nature of how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting society, and what people understand about it. He contended that the district’s options are the “best possible options” and said he did not expect to significantly alter them, although specifics might be adjusted.

Meanwhile, David LaRoche, who is challenging Browning in the August Republican primary election, took to social media to promote a different approach.

LaRoche, until recently the principal of Hudson High School, said on Facebook that he would like to see all the district schools opened for elementary grades only, to allow for greater social distancing and to recognize the in-person learning needs of younger children.

Students in sixth through twelfth grades could attend virtual courses, he proposed.

“This could stay in place for the first semester at least or until it is safe to return to the buildings normally. Not only would this plan be safer for all involved it would ensure no furloughs or lay-offs,” LaRoche wrote.

I have said all along that the COVID-19 situation is very fluid situation and that it is too early to force a decision...

Posted by Dr. David LaRoche for Pasco Schools Superintendent on Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Some commenters commended the idea and said they liked it better. Others raised questions, and at least one noted that the model would not meet the Department of Education’s recent emergency order stating that when schools reopen, they must have a five-day-a-week in-person option for any student that wants it.

In an interview, LaRoche said he had not fully reviewed the emergency order. He mentioned, though, that the department did tell districts they could submit ideas for innovative ways to get back to school during the coronavirus, and it might be worth a try to at least submit this approach.

“I believe it’s the best thing for the kids,” LaRoche said. “I’m just putting it out as an idea that I think could work, and I think it’s a viable plan. ... If the governor says it isn’t going to fly, it isn’t going to fly.”

Other Tampa area school districts continue to gather information about their reopening plans. Hillsborough parents have until July 17 to indicate their preference. The Pinellas School Board has a workshop scheduled to discuss the issue on July 14.

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