LAND O' LAKES, Fla. - Within a matter of weeks, Florida school districts had to scramble and determine the best foot forward as COVID-19 cases surge before first day of school. Pasco County's superintendent was originally planning for a "normal school reopening" after an unprecedented year, but then the number of cases exploded.
"Really up to about 2-3 weeks ago we were planning for what we call a normal school reopening," Superintendent Kurt Browning told FOX 13. "Then the bottom dropped out with these COVID numbers and we had to redo everything that we were planning on doing. We had to curtail some school activities but for the most part we’re trying to keep things as normal as we possibly can."
The reason being is to make sure students are still able to socialize – safely – which is important for their mental wellbeing, he explained.
"Human beings need to be social," Browning said. "They need to socialize with one another. When kids are stuck at home either quarantined or when schools are shut down that’s not healthy for them. They need to get into their routines."
One factor that has remained controversial since the start of the pandemic was face coverings. Since Governor Ron DeSantis banned mask mandates and threatened to withhold funding from school districts that require them,
Browning said Pasco County will comply with that executive order.
Instead, students and adult staff members will be "strongly" encouraged to wear them. When it comes to COVID-19 exposure, Browning said vaccinated individuals do not need to quarantine if they are asymptomatic.
"If you have symptoms, whether you’re vaccinated or not, you will be going home for 10 days," Browning explained, adding that the numbers of days is in line with the recommendations by the county and state health departments. "I know the frustration that parents face because we quarantined many thousands of kids last year who were not sick. I understand that. "
However, the loss of instructional time is a concern he shares with parents, teachers and students, he said, including the academic slide from the pandemic.
"Whether you were a virtual … or you were bricks and mortar, COVID just tore through our educational practices in the Pasco district," Browning said. "The Pasco district is no different than the Hillsborough, Pinellas or any other district in Florida. COVID had a dramatic impact on student performance last year."
"What we going to do to ensure that this year," he added, "all of our students are going to get what they need to receive in order to be successful. That’s our mission this year."