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Tampa Bay area schools face changes to field trip protocols in light of the pandemic

While some districts statewide are pausing out-of-state travel, one Tampa Bay area district is making all field trips voluntary for students.

As the omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to sweep through the state, Florida’s school leaders are left making decisions about student health and safety - particularly when it comes to extracurricular activities.

Some school districts are postponing out-of-state field trips over concerns that meeting COVID protocols in other states might violate Florida’s rules.

But it’s business as usual for many school districts in the greater Tampa Bay region.

In an email, Pinellas County Schools public information officer Isabel Mascareñas said that no changes have been made to extracurricular activities and field trips. She said the district is continuing to encourage social distancing, handwashing, and mask-wearing among students and staff.

The Pasco County School District is taking a similar approach.

Public information officer Steve Hegarty explained that the district is still allowing in- and out-of-state travel, but with guidance.

“We're just making it very clear that it's a parent's choice, and they need to take responsibility for making good decisions for their student,” he said.

Travel still must be approved by the district and is fairly limited for the time being, Hegarty added. Travel is also voluntary for students, so no penalties will be faced if they do not feel comfortable participating.

Hegarty also said that COVID-19 numbers in Pasco County Schools are far underreported.

“If someone calls in and just says that they're sick and they do not send any paperwork in or anything like that, the numbers are not counted in our site’s automatic tally,” he said.

Sarasota County Schools are operating under the same mitigation strategies when it comes to field trips.

In an email, public information officer Kelsey Whealy confirmed that field trip protocols have not changed during the pandemic.

Within the district, students are encouraged to quarantine when symptomatic or exposed to someone with COVID-19. However, students are not required to quarantine when asymptomatic and exposed to COVID-19.

Hillsborough and Manatee county school officials did not return requests for information prior to publication.

According to Hillsborough’s opening plan for the 2021-22 school year, in- and out-of-state field trips are allowed “using current guidance from health authorities.”

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Violet Comber-Wilen