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Hillsborough County School Board votes to have schools start virtually for first 4 weeks of school

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HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Thursday is the day thousands of parents in Hillsborough County have been waiting for.

School board members voted 5-2 to vote to delay the start of brick and mortar learning for the first four weeks of school following a nearly 6-hour meeting. This will mean only elearning and Virtual school will be options for Hillsborough County School students starting Aug. 24.

The district already pushed the school year start date back by two weeks.

The vote was 5-2 with only Melissa Snively and Cindy Stuart dissenting from the vote.

In a statement the school board says elearning will look very different from the fourth quarter of the 2019 school year.

Students will attend school online during regular school hours and follow a standard school schedule. Teachers will provide “live” instruction each day, delivering lessons through Canvas, which replaces Edsby. Depending on the content, after the initial “live” instruction, students may transition to independent work, collaborative group work and/or asynchronous learning.

“I am here to protect all learners and our staff. The state’s Executive Order required districts to open up five days in our brick and mortar schools. This is why we gave our families options. The Board has made an informed decision with input from public health authorities, and my team will work to make sure eLearning is dynamic and that our staff provides wrap around services for our children. I look forward to the day we can bring students back to our school campuses,” said Superintendent Addison Davis.

Earlier this summer, Davis said masks will be required for staff and students who return for in-person classes. The district will provide three reusable masks to each student on the first day of school. Three reusable masks will also be provided to staff members.

Families were given three back-to-school options: in-person learning, eLearning and virtual school.

Emotional comments came throughout the public including from Abbey Murkal who told board members that students who want to return to class should be allowed to do so.

“E-learning is a good contingency, but it is not a one size fits all solution. E-learning deprives students of face to face social interaction, degrades the value of instruction, and widens the digital gap between the haves and the have nots,” said Murkal.

Each speaker was given just 60 seconds to address the board, as more than 50 people signed up to speak.

Parent Dawn Nummer told board members that returning to class could be dangerous for her son.

“I don’t have a choice. My son has asthma and I chose HVS, but I was assigned brick and mortar. Does my son’s life matter to the board?” Said Nummer.

The size of the meeting was limited and everyone was required to wear a face mask as a precaution to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Christina Finn is a teacher who emotionally addressed the board, telling them she has spent the last nine weeks in bed after being infected with the virus.

“I am still suffering from COVID, even though I am negative. I am on steroids and I am constantly in my bed. I am being asked to go back into the classroom and I am being asked to teach brick and mortar. I’ve asked my principal and I’ve asked the district for help and we are not getting help,” said Finn.

Board members then heard from health care professionals from Tampa General Hospital and University of South Florida . Some of the professionals differed in their opinions but most agreed it would be dangerous to return students to classrooms at this time.

“The risk of schools becoming an incubator for spread to our community is very real,” said Dr. Charlees Lockwood, Dean of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.

The school board will reconvene Sept. 8 to review the status of the coronavirus and discuss the next steps for the fall year.

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