NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. - Pasco County parents had to decide by Wednesday whether to send their kids back to school in the fall or choose a form of distance learning that would keep them off campuses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
A spokesperson for the district said Superintendent Kurt Browning prefers these decisions to be final for the fall semester, but parents can change their minds.
"We're just doing our best to reassure everybody because everybody wants to know about masks, everybody wants to know if you're keeping the schools clean, everybody wants to know what you're going to do if somebody shows up and they have a cough or if they test positive," said Pasco Schools spokesperson Steve Hegarty. "We're trying to answer all those questions to make people a little bit more comfortable that they're going into a safe environment."
Parents can choose to either send their children back to school for traditional in-person learning, or they can also choose one of two types of virtual learning.
Some parents are struggling to determine what is the best option, especially as COVID-19 cases are surging in Florida.
"As a parent, your job is to protect your children and right now it's hard to even do that and you're being forced to make a decision right now, today and you don't know what to do because you don't know how to protect them and how to prevent them from getting this. But you also want them to learn and get an education," said Alisha Harper, who has a 3-year-old son with Down Syndrome and a daughter going into kindergarten. "She's around him all the time so if she gets sick, it's an extremely high chance that he will too. So right now, I'm just kind of at a crossroads and I don't really know what to do. And I feel like I don't even have time to even think about it."
Harper said she'll likely wait until the last minute to decide. Others, like Kelly Crisp, have already made one but are still frustrated about the situation.
"I am putting [my son] in online schooling due only because I don't want him catching COVID-19. It's the best decision for my family because I have an elder living with me. I cannot subject her to the possibility of her catching it," Crisp told FOX 13. "So today is the deadline and I'm starting to panic and so I called the school looking for answers and they told me to relax because school doesn't start until August. I don't understand how there's a deadline and they're telling me to chill. It's difficult being a new kindergarten parent and it's difficult to get everything accomplished without having anybody available face to face."
Don Peace, president of the United School Employees of Pasco, said teachers and staff are feeling a mixture of emotions.
"People are apprehensive, scared," Peace said. "The trend is not looking good, so I think people question really what our next step should be. Should we be returning to brick and mortar?"
Students and staff in Pasco County will be required to wear masks when they can't maintain social distancing. Hillsborough County Superintendent Addison Davis announced a similar decision Tuesday.
The next round of deadlines are next week, when parents in Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota Counties are asked to decide how they want their children to learn during the fall semester.