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‘How are we supposed to be safe’: Hillsborough county teachers concerned over social distancing

The district is making efforts to social distance once schools reopen, but the superintendent says it won't be foolproof.

TAMPA, Fla. — The Hillsborough County school district battled to go online for the start of the year, but ultimately the state is forcing some teachers back into classrooms by the end of the month.

All students will start the school year on Aug. 24, but everyone will do eLearning for the first week. On Aug. 31, brick and mortar buildings will reopen. 

The district will make efforts to social distance, but the superintendent says it won't be foolproof.

"In education, social distancing doesn't exist and if someone is telling you they're going to be able to do it effectively every single day, it's going to be hard to do. We're going to do our best," Hillsborough County Superintendent Addison Davis said.

That comment has teachers on edge.

"It is concerning that you don't know what you need to be planning for. So we just kind of had the plan for everything at this point," Steve Kemp said.

Kemp teaches social studies at Blake High School. He's opted to not be in the classroom for the first time in 17 years.

"I'm over 60 and I also have medical high risk, so I got a, I had already gotten a letter from my doctor. Normally you would have 25 to 30 students in an average classroom and that's going to be conducive to social distancing," Kemp said.

The adjustments that are supposed to be made in all Hillsborough County schools look like this:

In the classroom: 

- The 1-2 foot distance between desks should be bumped up to at least 6 feet whenever possible.

- All students and their teachers should have a mask and a sanitation station will be placed in the classroom.

In the hallways:

- Students will walk only on the right-hand side to limit contact

- The district says some hallways will allow students to move in both directions with a divider down the middle.

Teachers say they aren't confident those protocols will work.

"To socially distance a classroom to keep everyone six feet apart, you literally need six to 10 kids at a room. But we'll still have 15 to 20 and then teaching the rest online, every period of the day is absolutely insane. I see a disaster coming," Spanish teacher Carolina Plested said.

Administrators for each school are supposed to preview and approve classroom designs prior to the start of school. 

The school district did confirm principals will be receiving guidelines for their classrooms next week. Those plans will be adjusted throughout the year if needed.

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