PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – As school kicks off in Pinellas County, education leaders had to tackle a variety of issues, masks and COVID, are only some of them.
“This year I’m looking for a college scholarship. I’m working really hard this year for that. I’m excited,” said Colin Zell, a senior at St. Pete High School.
Zell is just one of many students returning after being away from the classroom. While many of the school districts across the country are battling learning loss in students who went home during the COVID-19 pandemic, district leaders say it’s not as bad in Florida as in other states.
Kids in third through fifth grade had tutoring available before and after school. The school day continued at home thanks to laptops, tablets and practice work. As the new school year gets underway, students in grades third through 10th grade will all have a laptop given to them.
“We made that effort and commitment to truly, in some ways, swim upstream and really fight that fight and get students in. We had about 20% of our students learning remote last year, and we brought those students back in. We made that environment comfortable,” said Superintendent Dr. Michael Grego of Pinellas County Schools.
That comfort comes from students and families feeling safe sending their kids into the classroom.
Despite the controversy behind kids wearing masks and the politics around it, the district already had a plan in place to protect students 12 years of age and under who are not eligible for a COVID vaccine.
They are taking several of the lessons from last year, including continuing cleaning and sanitizing the schools and asking students and staff who are sick to stay home. They’re encouraging all students to wear masks, while still keeping it an option for parents to decide at home.
“I want to protect my family, and I don’t want to get anyone else sick, so I feel like the mask is the best way to prevent that for myself. That’s really the only reason that I wear it. I don’t really like the mask, but hey, I’ll wear it if it helps,” said Zell.
Regarding the district’s need for bus drivers, they say while they may be a bit understaffed, they have enough drivers to fill their routes today.