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Florida Board of Education to meet in east Hillsborough this week

The session comes as state officials aim to pressure schools to reopen their buildings in August.
The Florida Board of Education last met in Hillsborough County at Mort Elementary School in May 2019.
The Florida Board of Education last met in Hillsborough County at Mort Elementary School in May 2019. [ JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times Staff ]
Published Jul. 13, 2020

The Florida Board of Education hasn’t held an in-person meeting since Feb. 12, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

It plans to change that at 9 a.m. Wednesday when — despite Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent order allowing government agencies to keep convening remotely to “protect the public” — the board gathers for a session at Strawberry Crest High School in eastern Hillsborough County.

The move comes amid the governor’s push, encouraged by President Trump, to get public schools reopened for full service education in August.

This meeting, Department of Education spokeswoman Taryn Fenske, will allow the board to “set a precedent and an example.”

It’s the “right thing to do” and the “best way to hold a public meeting,” Fenske said via text message to the Tampa Bay Times.

Hillsborough County superintendent Addison Davis said he was happy to welcome the governing board to one of his schools, even as his district continues its own reopening debate amid rising positive virus cases throughout the region and state.

“It’s a way to model that we’re getting back on track to normalcy. It can be done,” Davis said. “It sends a signal at the same time we’re asking students to come back to school. I applaud them for moving to face-to-face meetings.”

Davis recently mandated that all visitors to district facilities must wear facial coverings in any area where social distancing cannot be maintained. He said he will hold the state board, its staff and anyone in the audience to that standard while at Strawberry Crest.

“They have to,” he said. “If they’re not six feet apart, anybody in Hillsborough County has to wear it.”

He said he expected the meeting to take place in either the school auditorium or gymnasium, with appropriate spacing. The school also will have several entrances for people to access the space without crowding, he added, and it will have plenty of hand sanitizer, wipes and other needed protective equipment and supplies on hand.

The site will be fully cleaned afterward, Davis said.

Hillsborough’s School Board has scheduled a workshop for 1 p.m. Thursday, where members will talk about more specific details relating to what in-person classes will look like. That meeting also is set to take place face-to-face.

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