LARGO — With more than 15,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Pinellas County, local school officials have taken steps to ensure the health and safety of students and teachers.
The Pinellas County School Board unanimously voted Tuesday to push back the district's school start date from Wednesday, Aug. 12, to Monday, Aug. 24.
The decision comes following the recommendation of Superintendent Michael Grego on July 21 to delay the reopening in an effort to give teachers, staff and administrators time to adapt to new learning options, as well as time to make brick-and-mortar campuses as safe as possible.
Parents were asked to choose by July 27 between three types of learning platforms for the upcoming year — the traditional brick-and-mortar model, where students will return to classrooms; instruction via MyPCS Online, a virtual classroom that will include school district curriculum, with lessons developed and taught by local teachers in grades K-12; and Pinellas Virtual School, a state-based program that includes curriculum taught by Pinellas Virtual School teachers.
Grego announced the results of that option process — 63.5% of students are slated to return to the traditional classroom and 36.5% have signed up for virtual learning, with approximately 33.5% signing up for MyPCS Online.
"We've had a tremendous response from our community," Grego said.
Grego said that had the majority of those choosing a virtual platform had selected Pinellas Virtual School, the district could have lost up to $86 million in funding.
"It would have devastated our district," he said.
In addition, Grego said over the past few weeks, teachers who voiced concerns about returning to the classroom were surveyed. According to the response, 643 teachers have said they have underlying conditions that would prevent them from returning to the classroom; 39 teachers are older than 65, an age bracket that is particularly affected by COVID-19; 345 teachers said they live with someone who has an underlying condition; and 566 said they were healthy, but still concerned about returning.
Grego said district administrators will work to pair those teachers who elect not return to the classroom with online courses within the MyPCS Online platform.
With the delay of the start of school, the district was forced to amend its calendar year, which now includes the following dates:
• A school start date for 10-month instructional staff on Thursday, Aug. 13, and for students on Monday, Aug. 24.
• Eighty-eight days of instruction during the first semester and 92 days the second semester with administration of first semester exams prior to winter break.
• A Thanksgiving break from Saturday, Nov. 21, through Sunday, Nov. 29, for students and 10-month instructional staff.
• A winter break from Saturday, Dec. 19, through Sunday, Jan. 3, for students and 10-month instructional staff.
• A spring break from Saturday, March 13, through Sunday, March 21, for students and 10-month instructional staff.
• A school ending date for students on Wednesday, June 9, and for 10-month instructional staff on Thursday, June 10.