From masks to contact tracing; Hillsborough County rolls out new plan to reopen schools

Hillsborough County students and teachers will start the school year online only on August 24 for the first week, but then it’s back to the district’s original reopening plan. 

“Before every student returns on the 31st, we’ll make sure that every single classroom will have a gallon of hand sanitizer in there. We’ll have the masks they need. We’ll have the wipes they need with replenishments coming,” said Chris Farkas, the chief of operations at Hillsborough County Schools.

From the time children step on the bus, they will be required to wear a mask. Staff will be required to wear masks too. Desks will be spaced out when possible, but Superintendent Addison Davis acknowledges it won’t be easy.

RELATED: After state threatens funding, Hillsborough plans only one week of online classes

“In education, social distancing doesn’t exist. And if someone is telling you they’re going to be able to do it effectively every single day, it’s going to be hard to do. We’re going to do our best,” Davis said.

When there is a COVID-19 case, district leaders said they'll consider three factors to determine exposure: mask use, physical distance, and the amount of time spent interacting.

“Once someone has been exposed, they are self-quarantined for 14 days. The return is based on the last point of contact, 14 days from the last point of contact with that positive person,” said Tracye Brown, the chief of climate and culture at the school district.

Then contact tracing will begin with tracking schedules and activities, she said.

“There will be eight teams that are hired specifically to support contact tracing with Hillsborough County Public Schools,” said Brown.

Some parents said they still have concerns about the schools reopening despite the school board’s earlier vote to follow the recommendations of medical professionals and delay the reopening plan.

“I know that at the end of the day I have to worry about not only keeping my kids safe, myself safe but our entire community,” said Damaris Allen, a parent with the group Safe Schools, Safe Community. “I’m really worried and concerned about community spread when we reopen schools.”

Other parents said they are relieved to know their children will be able to return to the classroom sooner.

“As long as my children can go back to school and see their friends and meet their teachers because they're going into middle school, they’ve never experienced anything like that. I think as long as they get to experience that firsthand, I think that they’re going to have a better comfort level than what they would have if any type of e-learning would have been extended for them,” said parent Cynthia Simmons.

District leaders said they have stockpiles of cleaning supplies and will control how much is distributed at one time to the schools. The superintendent also said they will have grab and go meals available for those in need, and they are working on getting students access to WiFi for the first week.

PDF: Read the Hillsborough back-to-school plan

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

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