TAMPA BAY AREA, Fla. — As the first day of school gets closer, Tampa Bay area families are faced with the tough decision on whether to send their kids back to school for in-person learning or keep them home for e-learning.
ABC Action News has compiled a list of the deadlines parents must decide by.
- Citrus County: Monday, July 20 at 12 p.m.
- This is specifically for parents looking to enroll their kids in Citrus Virtual School
- DeSoto County: Friday, July 10
- Hardee County: Thursday, July 23
- Hernando County: Monday, July 27
- Highlands County: Friday, July 10
- Hillsborough County: Sunday, July 19
- Manatee County: Wednesday, July 22 by the end of the day
- Pasco County: Wednesday, July 8
- Pinellas County: Monday, July 27 no later than 5 p.m
- Polk County: Extended to Sunday, August 2
- Sarasota County: Monday, July 20
- This is specifically for families to complete the School Reopening Parent/Guardian Survey and for those wanting to enroll students full-time in Sarasota Virtual School.
For many parents, there are still a lot of unanswered questions regarding what in-person school will look like.
“Are we going to be reducing class sizes? How is lunches gonna be handled? As far as playground, P.E., social distancing,” asked Kimberly Pullen, a parent in the Hillsborough County School District.
Pullen has opted to choose e-learning for her fifth-grade child, but that's a decision not every parent has the luxury of making.
“There is no option for me. I have to go face-to-face to work, and she has to go to school,” said Valerie Kendrick, a teacher and parent in the Polk County School District.
Kendrick is a single mother. Her concern isn't necessarily about her or her child contracting the virus, but who they might bring it home to if they do pick it up at school.
“As a person whose grandmother actually passed away from COVID, it’s scary, very scary, and I’m still dealing with that,” said Kendrick.
This raises questions for parents and teachers about whether schools will have to forgo safety in order to reopen.
“I’m really concerned that there is any way to make it safe, because I know I will still have the same number of students in a room,” said Christy McCullough, a teacher in the Polk County School District.
McCullough has mixed feelings when it comes to returning to school. She's an agriculture teacher, and for her, the decision to go back lies in the fact that her job isn't an easy one to do distantly.
“To turn mine completely into an online program may be playing a video game about horses instead of actually touching a horse,” said McCullough.
But one thing she wants parents to keep in mind when they make their decision, is that in-person school will likely look a lot different.
“I keep hearing 'kids need to get back to school.' School will not be normal. If you send your kid back to school, they’re going to have to sit spaced out at lunch, or they may have to eat lunch in their classroom. They may not be allowed to be on the playground,” said McCullough.
And in many districts, masks are going to be required.
Many of the school districts in our area have either drafted or presented their plans to reopen their classrooms to students and school staff and Governor Ron DeSantis believes children should be learning in classrooms.
Gov. DeSantis, who claims that students in Florida are suffering from an "education gap" from e-learning, is urging schools to reopen right away for the 2020-2021 academic year.
"I want our kids to be able to minimize this education gap that I think has developed," Gov. DeSantis said earlier in the week. "In spite of good efforts with the online, it's just not the same. So I worry about that gap."
But on the other hand, Florida once again shattered the single-day record for new COVID-19 cases. On Sunday morning, the state reported 15,300 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total up to 269,811.
Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis released a statement on Sunday, July 12, letting parents know he is aware of the difficult decision parents are currently faced with.
In that statement, Superintendent Davis let families know he is working to provide more details about the district's reopening plan.
"My team is creating a video to show you what the school day will look like, and I am preparing a presentation to our School Board this Thursday afternoon to further discuss the reopening plan," Davis wrote.
Hillsborough County also created this email address: HCPSreopening@hcps.net, to address any reopening questions parents have.
Davis also made it clear that face coverings will be required in Hillsborough County schools.
Click here for the full statement from Superintendent Davis.