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Questions Swirl Around Hillsborough's Plans To Reopen Schools

If the Hillsborough County School Board approves a reopening plan on Thursday, in-person instruction at schools will begin Aug. 24. On Monday, Superintendent Addison Davis held a virtual town hall to address questions from parents and district employees.

The district asked families to respond to an online survey about how they plan to return to school. The options were: full-time return to school, school-based e-learning and Hillsborough Virtual School. Enrollment for the latter closes on Friday. 

Once families make a choice, Deputy Superintendent Terry Connor said the district wants them to stay with that option.

"It really does dictate for us where to put our staff to meet the needs of all students. So to answer the question, once you commit, we want you to stick with the commitment, but we will look at a case-by-case basis, we'll take a look if there are extenuating circumstances," Connor said.

Superintendent Davis added that if students are constantly transitioning between brick-and-mortar and e-learning, it could affect the district's class sizes. He said schools have to stay within state guidelines.

Teachers and staff will soon be back at work, learning the course management system Canvas and the new protocols and procedures designed to keep everyone safe and healthy.

During the town hall there was a question about what happens if a teacher or student shows up with symptoms of coronavirus.  Hillsborough Schools Chief of Climate and Culture, Tracye Brown said that individual will be sent to the school nurse.

"There they will be placed a room, that is specifically for children and adults who are exhibiting symptoms for COVID-19," she said. They will be sent home and told to contact a doctor.

If someone tests positive for coronavirus, they are to contact the principal who will reach out to district leaders.

The school will determine where that student or staff member has been and cleaning protocols will be employed.

But Brown said a negative coronavirus test would not be required for a return to school.  She said the district will be monitoring when the symptoms began.

Hillsborough Schools Chief of Operations Chris Farkas responded to a question about the HVAC systems at schools. He said every school has particle filters in their air conditioning systems. He talked about merv (minimum efficiency reporting value) ratings and said the systems have merv 7 and 8 filters, but they are looking to increase that.

"We're looking at merv 13 filters, UVC light and ionization to try to improve this. We always feel like we can do better and we'll continue to do so," he said.

Each classroom will be equipped with a sanitation station, and lunch procedures are changing to address the current need for social distancing.

If a teacher must quarantine because one of their students falls ill, School District Human Resources Chief Marie Whelan said "employees can receive paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19 through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This act has been in place since April 1 and we have been working with our employees so that they are able to make the decisions that are in their best interest for their health or for their family situations," she said.

Superintendent Davis said the district is contracting with Kelly Services to provide substitute teachers if they are needed. "But we will make sure that Kelly's are held accountable to make certain that they have the necessary staff to fill positions along the way," he said.

Everyone attending school will be required to wear face masks unless they have a medical exemption. Davis said the plan is "continuing to evolve daily, but we hope to provide the best experience possible." 

The virtual townhall addressed questions from parents and district employees.
screenshot from HillsboroughSchools.TV /
The virtual townhall addressed questions from parents and district employees.

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Susan Giles Wantuck is our midday news host, and a producer and reporter for WUSF Public Media who focuses her storytelling on arts, culture and history.