TAMPA, Fla. - Hillsborough County's superintendent says the state has refused to back down from a threat to withhold millions of dollars in funding, forcing the district to abandon its plan to start the school year with four weeks of virtual classes for everyone. Instead, all students will begin with only one week of online classes, then school buildings will reopen one week later for those who want to return.
Superintendent Addison Davis travelled to Tallahassee on Tuesday after state education commissioner Richard Corcoran blasted the district for choosing four weeks of virtual learning to start the school year, but he said the state rejected several attempts at compromise, rejecting Davis' suggestions for a phased return-to-campus approach.
“They did not want to have inconsistencies with plans across the state,” Davis said, admitting that he was disappointed that his efforts failed.
In an emergency order last month, Corcoran ordered nearly all of the state’s public schools to make on-campus classes an option, unless local health officials said it was unsafe amid the pandemic.
After hearing from a panel of top local doctors last week – none of whom said they would recommend opening school campuses right now – the Hillsborough school board voted 5-2 to delay implementation of the on-campus plan by four weeks.
The move drew the ire of Gov. Ron DeSantis as well as Secretary Corcoran, who traveled to Washington this week for a ‘reopen schools’ event with the president. Corcoran told the district to return to their original reopening plan, come up with a new state-approved plan, or skip out on at least $23-million of state funding.
Faced with that funding shortfall, Davis opted to scrap the four-week plan.
“Openly, it’s a lot of money. Over $200 million that we could potentially lose for this organization,” Davis said. “That would openly bankrupt this organization.”
The revised back-to-school plan takes effect when classes resume on August 24. The first, online-only week will be a "smart start" week, Davis said, in which attendence will be taken and all students are expected to log in.
“This is going to be a week where we are going to focus on making connections with our students, making connections with our families,” he explained.
Starting August 31, the county's public school campuses will be open and buses will be running for students who plan to return.
Davis said last week that the county's parents were evenly split between on-campus classes and virtual options.
School board member Tamara Shamburger, herself a COVID-19 survivor, was angered by the state's order and questioned both the health and the financial aspects of the plan.
"For the state to hold their ground and to force us to put our students and our staff in unnecessary peril, it's just completely unreasonable," she told FOX 13. "What is it going to cost this district when we have to shut down because this pandemic has ravaged our school buildings?"