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Parents express concerns over COVID-19, Delta variant as students head back to school in Hillsborough

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Posted at 4:19 PM, Aug 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-10 17:18:49-04

TAMPA, Fla. — The back-to-school jitters aren’t something just students feel.

“Nervous, very nervous,” said Lindsay Abney, a mom sending her third-grader off to class at Chiaramonte Elementary in South Tampa.

Parents get them, too, now more than ever as COVID cases continue causing concern in Florida. Abney says she chose to bring him back because e-learning just wasn’t working out.

“Vaccines were a big thing, just knowing that my husband and I were vaccinated, we felt a lot better with him being able to go back to school and come back to the house and also, he just needed it,” she said.

But she also wishes all kids were required to wear masks.

Right now in Hillsborough County, the district says a mandate is in place but they also give parents the option to opt-out.

So far, 26,000 parents have sent in those opt-out forms which means about 14% of the student body in Hillsborough will not wear a mask in school.

“I wish they would make it fully mandatory, I don’t think it should be as simple as if you don’t want your kid to wear it you can just sign a note,” said Abney.

Terrence Murphy, who is sending his kids back to in-person learning, feels the same.

"COVID is still very real, it’s still going around, there are still different strains coming out,” he said. “I think it’s just best to keep it safe and wear the masks.”

And if you’re a parent that wants your kid in a mask, don’t count on teachers or staff to tell them to put it back on if they take it off even though Addison Davis, the Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent, confirms each teacher will know their student’s mask preference.

“If a child doesn’t have a mask, we’re assuming they are opting out,” said Davis.

But, he says teachers will have conferences with parents and their kids to work through mask issues if need be. One parent told ABC Action News her kid has been practicing the rules of protection since last year and she’s confident they’ll continue to be safe.

“Basically, we’ve practiced social distancing all summer and again it was just making sure that you continue washing your hands,” Caprice Govan said.

Plus, wearing a mask and social distancing, she believes wearing a mask is a choice and respects that.

The district believes the opt-out number will creep up throughout this week, but say they are going to have touch-points with parents later this week to validate their mask preference so everyone is on the same page.

“I’m personally never going to go against state law and statutory requirements. We’re always going to stay within the lines. We don’t have to worry about it here from my perspective,” Davis said.

He says the board will meet again in September to revisit their mask policies.

Masks aside, Davis says he talked to several students excited to be back in a brick and mortar school.

"I've been here for 16-17 months, we've had students that have no been in classrooms since I've been superintendent," he said. "They're excited to have the interaction with their peers, and not only be academically engaged but be involved in co and extracurricular activities. I think that's major. That creates ownership and pride as they transition through our hallways."