TAMPA, Fla. - Wednesday was the first day back in the classroom for several private schools in the Bay Area. At the same time, public schools are ironing out their plans to welcome students back, in-person or virtually, in the coming weeks.
August 12 was the deadline for Sarasota County families to choose between in-person or remote learning when classes resume August 31. They also got a first glimpse of what classrooms will look like in a video shared by the district.
"Our classrooms are equipped with nimble little cameras and microphones that allow the teacher to direct the camera to the active panel or to themselves so that they are teaching both children at home and children in-person," Dr. Laura Kingsley, Chief Academic Officer of Sarasota County Schools explained in the video.
Other measures include the use of reusable water bottles brought from home instead of water fountains, mandatory masks and clear protective desk shields.
"The classroom is going to be equipped with barriers. A teacher can be in front of the barrier, beside the barrier, where children and the teacher can collaborate on learning back and forth," Kinsley said.
The incoming superintendent admits that it won't be easy and that both students and teachers will learn and adapt as they go.
"It's like nothing we've ever done before," Superintendent Dr. Brennan Asplen said at his swearing-in ceremony. "There are going to be issues that are going to pop up and we all as a community, everybody working together, we need to work through those issues in a positive manner."
Meanwhile, Hillsborough County Schools has a major decision to make. School leaders opted to go virtual for the first four weeks of classes.
"Please know this decision wasn't made lightly," Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis said shortly after the decision.
But afterward, the state warned that they stand to lose around $23 million in funding if they don't reopen brick and mortar schools.
Superintendent Davis met with the Department of Education in Tallahassee Tuesday to try to reach a compromise. Though it's unclear if that happened, Governor DeSantis expressed support Wednesday for parents' right to choose.
"To our parents, you deserve the choice of in-person instruction or distance learning for your kids and I am glad that so many school districts are making this vision a reality," DeSantis said.
If Hillsborough County Public Schools plans to revert from its current online-only plan, it would have to quickly figure out the logistics of re-opening schools by August 24. There's a special meeting about all of this Thursday at 1 p.m. The school board has until Friday to make a decision.
It's officially back-to-school at Bayshore Christian Academy in Tampa. Parents now get COVID-19 questionnaires during drop-off. Students will have temperatures checked and hands sanitized before entering the building, where masks are mandatory.
"We trusted our school that they would explore all options and when it was announced, the reopening plan, we felt confident and felt peace and felt ready," said Bayshore Christian parent Laurie Scott.
They're taking similar measures at Tampa's Hillel Academy, including temperature checks three times a day. Students got a Wizard of Oz-themed welcome back with characters like Dorothy and Tin Man reminding them about social distancing, mask-wearing and hand washing.
"We've been planning since April we've had a health committee, we've had our teachers, we are prepared to have a healthy and safe first day of school and school year," said Allison Oakes, Head of School at Hillel Academy.