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Will more school districts follow Hillsborough County and start the school year virtually?

Pinellas, Manatee & Polk Co. host meetings August 11
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Posted at 5:23 PM, Aug 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-07 18:06:16-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Going fully virtual is an option we’re learning more school districts in Tampa Bay may be considering after Hillsborough County became the first in the Tampa Bay area to announce school will be fully online for the first 4 weeks.

Pinellas, Manatee and Polk County School Districts are meeting Tuesday and all three may discuss an online start, giving COVID-19 cases a chance to decrease before students go back to the classroom.

RELATED: Hillsborough school board votes to have first 4 weeks of classes via eLearning and HVS options only

Yet, not opening school buildings could come with consequences. An order from the Florida Board of Education mandates schools open 5 days a week.

Pinellas County School Board Member Eileen Long says state leaders could even snatch away funding if they disobey.

“I just want to make sure that we are looking at all options,” Long said. “If we went all virtual against the state’s orders we would lose about $86 million.”

Dr. Christy Foust, a Pinellas County high school teacher, believes safety should come first.

“As our start date approaches, I’m feeling more and more stressed out. It’s really scary," Foust said.

School board leaders say making a decision, either way, is tricky. On the one hand, there’s the risk of COVID-19 spreading in schools. On the other, they also worry about how parents will manage childcare and if delaying schools will impact student development.

“Life and death are literally on the line. We have the infrastructure, let’s just do an online start,” Foust argues.

She would also like the start of the school year to be fully virtual for 9 weeks, instead of 4, which Hillsborough County leaders decided on.

Here’s where our other districts stand on a fully virtual start:

  • Citrus and Hernando say they’re not considering the idea, at this time.
  • Pasco and Sarasota County School Boards will meet August 18. It’s unclear if this option will come up. Pasco leaders made a motion to move to a virtual platform at a recent school board meeting but it did not have enough support to pass.