About half of parents decide to send kids back to schools in Tampa Bay area

Parents in three Tampa Bay school districts faced a tough decision Monday: send their kids back into the classroom or choose a form of virtual distance learning.

The Hernando, Pinellas and Polk County school districts all set July 27 deadlines for families to declare their choices.

Jason Perron, a father of three children, said he left it up to his two high-schoolers to decide what they felt comfortable doing.

"Surprisingly they came back and said, 'We want to wait a little bit until things get better,'" he said, adding he agreed with the decision because of the COVID-19 case surge and questions he still has about safety measures. "How is the school going to react and handle situations that are going to come up in the first nine weeks? So some kids are going to go back, some things are going to happen, there's going to be a case, do they shut down the class, do they shut down the school? How do they handle it? It's kind of getting over that rocky road. But I think once the dust settles after the first nine weeks, we'll reevaluate."

In Pinellas County, the numbers haven't been updated since Friday, but at that point, a little less than 50% of families chose in-person learning.

The number of families choosing brick and mortar school instruction in Hernando County was also almost exactly 50%.

The majority of the rest chose a form of e-learning in which students will watch and participate in live lessons from teachers in their schools.

"It wasn't even an option to send my child back into the classroom any time soon," said Dana Reid, who chose e-learning. "I work from home, so I have a little bit of flexibility. But I also feel like there are some parents who don't have that flexibility, so I feel an obligation [because] the less people that have to send their kids to school, the more chance that they can social distance."

The percentage choosing in-school learning in Hernando County schools was much lower than the tentative choices parents made several weeks ago.

"When we did a survey earlier in the summer, it came in at 86 percent. That's prior to the numbers taking the course they have," said Superintendent John Stratton. "Right now the crunch time becomes the scheduling of students. So that's what we'll be focusing on while keeping whatever protocols we can have in place and ramping those up and making them better as we go."

Parents who didn't meet the deadline will be automatically enrolled in a brick and mortar school with in-person instruction. In most cases, however, district administrators say changes can be made if parents reach out to their child's school.