HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — The Hillsborough County School Board voted to have the first four weeks of classes go virtual only.
The school board voted 5-2 on Thursday afternoon in favor of the district moving classes to eLearning or Hillsborough Virtual School (HVS) only to start the school year. The school board will check back to examine the current COVID-19 data and how to move beyond the four weeks at a meeting on Tuesday, September 8.
"I want this entire community to understand this was a very complex and difficult decision. This board did not take this lightly," said Superintendent Addison Davis. "This has been on their hearts every single day. They have worked tremendously with me and my team to better understand what's going on not only in our community but in our organization. For me, my job is to support them, and my job now is to create comfort within this community in order to have a positive experience."
Classes will begin on Monday, August 24. The school district says eLearning will look different than it did at the end of last semester. Students will go to school online during regular school hours and follow a standard school schedule.
During Thursday's meeting, the Superintendent and school board listened to and asked questions of a medical expert panel, made up of doctors from USF Health, Tampa General Hospital and the health department. They shared current COVID-19 data, suggestions on what thresholds the district should meet, and what they know about COVID-19 impacts on children.
Parents and teachers in support and against the virtual-only change spoke during the meeting. Hillsborough County teacher Christina Finn shared her story as a COVID-19 survivor and her fears returning to the classroom.
“If I get COVID again, I may not come back, and I am scared for that," said Finn. "And I don’t, I want to teach but I can do my job from the safety of my home. And I want to teach and I want to help my children. I love my staff and I love my students but please, please think about us.”
Davis had previously said the district wanted to give choices to parents and that the emergency order from the State Department of Education required the district to open schools five days a week.
“It’s the parents' decision of whether or not they continue to be actively engaged in the initial selection they’ve elected to do, whether it’s brick and mortar, they’ll have a selection of whether or not they want to transition to a remote learning process,” said Davis.
ABC Action News has reached out to the Florida Department of Education to find out how this decision against the emergency order may impact the district.
Thursday’s decision means a big pivot for parents as about 77,000 Hillsborough students opted to return to classes in person, according to Davis.
Jennifer Rogers’ son is enrolled in an exceptional student education program at Gaither High School.
“It’s emotional, behavioral development that he’s already shown signs of regression and I have expressed concerns over that,” said Rogers.
She says Daniel, who is on the autism spectrum, shows regressed behavior with online-only instruction.
“Instead of acting like a 16-year-old, he’s acting like several years younger,” said Rogers. “He’s having emotional outbursts because he can not articulate or process the emotions that say, you and I would have.”