Hillsborough Schools set to reopen online, add in-person learning Aug. 31 despite COVID-19 concerns

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Caving to financial threats from the Florida Department of Education, Hillsborough Schools will now start the school year with only one week of virtual classes before transitioning to in-person instruction for students whose parents want them to come back that soon.

Superintendent Addison Davis announced the latest change in re-opening plans during a Thursday afternoon news conference.

The school year is now set to begin as planned with online-only classes Aug. 24. In person classes will resume Aug.31.

The move comes after a tumultuous week for the District and a highly public standoff with the Florida Department of Education. The School Board voted last week to amend its initial re-opening plan and postpone in-person learning for the first month of school. The decision was made after a panel of health experts gave the Board advice on concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran quickly responded the following day with a letter demanding the District open schools with virtual and in-person options available, a position backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Superintendent Addison Thursday maintained the board “made an informed decision substantiated after hearing from local public health authorities.”

Representatives for Hillsborough said the District’s plan followed Corcoran’s July directive that gave districts the option of not opening campuses based on health department advice. After hearing from infectious disease experts and local health officials, the District said not one medical professional could recommend immediate openings.

Hillsborough and the State struggled to reach a compromise as the FDOE threatened to pull $23 million in funding from the District. Davis drove to Tallahassee Tuesday in a last-ditch effort to convince the State to postpone in-person learning, but said the price was too steep to pay for his students.

“The Department of Education made it clear that any model outside the emergency order would result in a negative financial impact,” Davis said in a news release. “That reduction in state funds would be detrimental to students’ learning and our organization.”

The first, online-only, week of school will be called Smart Start Week and is mandatory for all students.