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Bay-area families weigh options as school districts start looking ahead to next fall

While many students have been learning in-person for months, other families have held off on sending their children back and some say their kids won’t return.

TAMPA, Fla. — Marisa Langford says her family is eager to wrap up this school year as they look ahead to what they hope will be a more "normal" experience in the fall.

Three of her four kids have returned to in-person learning in Hillsborough County. The plan is for everyone to be back in the classroom by August.

“I’m very confident we’re doing the right thing,” she said. “The biggest thing for us is going to be consistency getting everybody into school – it definitely will help the kids to know what’s coming next.”

As families prepare for summer break in just two months, Bay-area districts are looking ahead to the fall.

RELATED: Superintendent: Pasco County Schools will not offer pandemic-related online learning this fall

Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning announced Tuesday the district will not offer pandemic-related online learning this fall in anticipation most students will be back in the classroom.

"It was always intended as a temporary option,” Browning said in a YouTube video announcing the plans. “Also despite our best efforts, our data show that many students who opted for 'mySchool Online' are not succeeding academically."

Denise Mestanza-Taylor says her daughter was one of those students who struggled immensely when schools transitioned to virtual learning.

Despite the challenges, she remained home even after schools reopened due to health concerns in the family.

“My son and I both have asthma and she was worried about bringing something home,” she said.

But rather than continue with the virtual learning option that followed the bell schedule, Mestanza-Taylor opted to completely withdraw her daughter from the district and home school her instead, along with her son who she’d already been homeschooling prior to the pandemic.

“I had to do what worked for my child and having that flexibility and the freedom to work at her own pace really helped make her feel successful this year,” she said. “She flourished.”

Ultimately it was a decision she says they likely wouldn’t consider had it not been for the pandemic.

RELATED: Tampa Bay districts detail fall learning methods: See county-by-county plans

While other districts work out their plans for the fall, Manatee County mother Michelle Cramer said she hopes families are still given options to decide what’s best for them.

Cramer said her two daughters – one in elementary, one in middle school – have been back in the classroom since the start of this school year.

“Our major driving force was our middle daughter, she really had a tough time being at home virtually,” Cramer said of her middle schooler. “It’s almost an understatement to say she was just a mess. Every day was almost like tantrums, she was crying.”

She says she and her husband noticed a difference almost immediately after her daughters returned to school.  She’s grateful she had the option, she said.

“Everybody has to make the right choice for them,” she said. “I hope they do have options.”

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