TAMPA, Fla. - Thousands of students in Hillsborough County are expected to head back to school online this fall, according to the school district, but the majority of parents want their kids to return to campus.
Parents have been asked to fill out a "declaration of intent" form to notify the school district of how they plan to have their kids start the school year.
Of the parents who’ve already submitted their forms, nearly 63% -- that's 36,879 students -- have responded that they plan to attend in-person classes next month. More than a third have opted to have their students attend school online this fall.
For parents who aren’t comfortable sending their kids back to a classroom, Hillsborough school officials are offering two different forms of online learning: eLearning or Hillsborough Virtual K-12.
School leaders said their eLearning platform will be a lot different from the online learning experience they rushed to switch to last spring when schools were abruptly closed. This fall’s eLearning model includes structured schedules and interactive classes. Students will be required to login for school at a given start time to meet their teachers online for live classes.
According to the school district, 17,436 students have opted for eLearning. Another 4,655 have said they intend to enroll in the Hillborough Virtual K-12 program.
Governor Ron DeSantis has repeatedly said he wants schools to reopen so that parents have the choice to send their kids back to school or keep them at home.
“Parents should have the ability to make the decisions they want, if they want to do the online stuff that’s fine, but just understand the cost of not giving kids an option to having in person instruction is enormous,” Governor DeSantis said at a press conference last week.
That week, the state commissioner of education issued an executive order requiring schools to reopen. The order comes with an incentive that’s far more stick than carrot: schools that don’t open risk losing their funding.
Teachers union representatives say they agree that in-person learning is the ultimate goal, but with case rates in our state of climbing, they say Florida doesn’t even meet the President’s own guidelines for reopening schools.
“The CDC has said that classrooms packed with students create a high risk situation for the transmission of Covid,” said Florida Education Association's Andrew Spar. “The CDC and the Trump administration’s own reopening plan say we should see a declining number of cases and we should be below a 10-percent positivity rate. That’s not the case right now in Florida.”
After extending the declaration-of-intent deadline to July 17, Hillsborough's superintendent promised more details about the on-campus safety plans and a schedule of virtual town halls for parents, but neither have been released.
The district says any students who aren’t declared by Friday’s deadline will be automatically enrolled in in-person classes. The district says it’s imperative that they hear back from parents because their responses will shape the plan for allocating staff and resources this fall.
The first day of school in Hillsborough County is August 10.