HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Next week, parents in Hillsborough County will make their final decision on how to send their kids back to school: if not face-to-face, students will need to go digital.
By Friday, July 17, Hillsborough County school families need to choose between in-person instruction, eLearning or Hillsborough Virtual school. The decision will lock students in for at least a semester, or 18 weeks.
“This is Remy. Remy was diagnosed with leukemia actually on the very first day of school last year,” said Caitlin Cook, of her 3-year-old-son.
Remy is part of the reason Cook’s other son will stick with eLearning when Hillsborough County Public Schools go back in session on August 10.
“Returning to school with COVID-19 wasn’t going to be an option one way or another,” said Cook.
On Tuesday, Hillsborough County superintendent Addison Davis announced a mask mandate for students and staff. Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association President Rob Kriete says some teachers are nervous about what school will look like when they return.
“They understand that we’re trying to come up with a balance here, but they want to make sure that it is the safest possible scenario, and social distancing in a school is quite impossible with the way the buildings are designed and the number of kids we’re servicing,” said Kriete.
Kriete says families should pick the option they feel safest with. If that’s virtual-based learning, he suggests taking away distractions to make a safe and creative learning environment for students.
“Pull away the distractions, make sure the TV is off,” said Kriete. “Take away the phone and all those other things that might distract the child and then make sure you’re monitoring their learning.”
Other families suggest creating a subject-based schedule with incentives for students.
For the end of the spring semester, the district bought extra devices and gave out more than 40,000 for students in eLearning, though it hasn’t yet released its plans for how it might help bridge the digital divide for the upcoming semester.
A district spokesperson also says its working toward plans for some learning opportunities for parents to become familiar with the new eLearning management system.
Families also recognize that not everyone can do virtual learning, and Cook has a suggestion to those who can.
“I think that if people have the ability to do it, to make sure that those schools have a little bit more actual physical space so the kids can social distance better, I think that’s a great choice and a great sacrifice really to make to make sure people who don’t have a choice are able to still have a safe learning environment for their kids,” said Cook