HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — In just a matter of days, students in Hillsborough County Public Schools will be back in the classroom for a new school year. Still, concern is growing over a return to school with a surge in COVID-19 cases. District leaders on Wednesday shared their continuing COVID protocols for the upcoming school year.
Laura Ferrell, a teacher at Rodgers Middle School, says she’s excited to get back in the classroom.
“We are going to continue to have to be safe and protect our children, but honestly, that’s not any different than any other year. We’re always looking out for our children and to protect them,” said Ferrell.
During a press conference Wednesday, Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis highlighted the district’s COVID-19 protocols, making clear safety continues to be a top priority.
“From our standpoint, while we understand that from a mask perspective that individuals, students that are 11-years-old or younger do not have accessibility to the vaccination, we know that best practice is, whether it’s through the CDC guidelines, whether it’s through medical local experts, through TGH Health and USF Health that have been a great partner for us, they strongly recommend students to be, who are not vaccinated or not have accessibility for vaccination, to wear the mask, and as a leader, I will stand with them and make certain that this is a strong recommendation within this community, a strong recommendation not only for our learners, but also a recommendation for our employees as well,” said Davis.
Masks remain optional for students and staff in the district. Davis also recognized a recent executive order protecting the rights of parents and the potential financial implications that could come with challenging it.
“As we open up next year, our parents can feel valued that and feel strong that know that we will continue our efforts related to having PPE within our classrooms, continue to have sanitation stations that are linked to having wipes, masks, hand sanitizers,” said Davis.
Davis noted there will be safety measures for areas like lunchrooms, and teachers say they’ll continue promoting social distancing. Davis also laid out quarantine guidelines.
“As of right now, we’ll reduce it from 10 days to seven days. After day six, they can go get an assessment. If that assessment is negative, then we’ll be able to prove confidence to be able to transition back,” said Davis. “If an individual is vaccinated, a student is vaccinated or an employee is vaccinated, they have every opportunity to show us that vaccination card, and those individuals will not have to quarantine.”
Still, safety concerns are top of mind with the Delta variant, schools, and kids. When asked how she feels going into the new school year, school board chair Lynn Gray said, of course, she’s worried.
“We have to face the fact the reality is there will be people in our school environment who will have, not the vaccine, but will not have a mask on, so that’s the worry,” said Gray. “We don’t have the control, and that’s so frustrating, isn’t it?”
The district released this statement on Thursday morning to clear up confusion some parents are having about quarantine information.
Individuals determined to be close contacts will quarantine for 10 days if they remain symptom-free per CDC and FLDOH recommendations OR seven days if a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test on day six or later is negative and they remain symptom-free. Vaccinated people and those who have tested positive in the last 90 days do not need to quarantine.
The first day of school for students in Hillsborough County Schools is Tuesday, August 10.