State education leaders try to assure teachers and parents ahead of return-to-school

Three school districts here in the Bay Area are trying to buy some time, pushing back the school year to get better prepared for all of the COVID-19 changes. Meanwhile, the state Board of Education and Gov. Ron DeSantis are meeting in Hillsborough County to discuss the reopening plan. 

The board hasn’t met in person since February, but that changed this morning when they met at Strawberry Crest High School, one day after three local districts voted to delay the start of school.

Yesterday, Manatee County voted to move their start back one week to August 17. Polk voted to delay the school year by two weeks. And in Sarasota, they won’t start until August 31.

School board members say this is going to give teachers extra time to train and plan for a school year that could be filled with more challenges. Teachers will be expected to be prepared to teach in person and online, if an outbreak inside a school or exposure forces a closure. 

Doctors say children show milder symptoms from the virus, but their concen is how kids can spread it to the adults in their schools and families.

“They’re much less likely to be very sick, and obviously some kids have died -- an 11 year old died in Florida -- but the vast majority do really well. Better, in fact, than with influenza," explained Dr. Charles Lockwood, the dean of USF's medical school. "The teachers, though, are worried about it, particularly the older teachers or those who are overweight, have diabetes or high blood pressure. And of course with parents, if the kids come home and infect their parents or grandparents. But in general they’re much less likely to do that than teenagers or rather young adults or older folks.”

Several school district representatives tell us the state’s sudden mandate to reopen schools for on-campus classes five days a week is forcing them to make decisions they’re not happy about.

“This plan that we completed was a dictate from the commissioner in response to the emergency order; we put everything in here to make sure we would get approved,” explained Dr. Laura Kingsley, the assistant superintendent of Sarasota County schools.

“There is no rush to dump our students in an unsafe situation. I know that I cannot have social distancing guidelines met in my classroom,” Sarasota middle school teacher Mary Alampi offered.

RELATED: Some teachers 'are going to die' if schools reopen, Sarasota teachers union president warns

That’s a point teachers made loud and clear at numerous rallies yesterday and then again outside Strawberry Crest this morning. They say filling classrooms with students during a pandemic will jeopardize the safety of students, teachers, parents and the broader community, and that school districts shouldn’t be reopening while case numbers continue to climb at record levels.

The governor, though, says parents should have the option to choose between virtual classes and on-campus learning.