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Pinellas County school leaders vote to push school year start to Aug. 24

The district superintendent recommended a later start date for the "safety, health and well-being of students and staff."

LARGO, Fla. — Students in Pinellas County will begin classes later than usual to give school leaders time to get ready for the year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the school board decided Tuesday.

The school year will start for students on Aug. 24, with instructional staff returning Aug. 13. Previously, students were to return to class Aug. 12.

Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Mike Grego earlier made the recommendation to delay the start of school "in an abundance of caution for the safety, health and well-being of students and staff."

Given the additional time, leaders say instructional staff can better prepare for any changes to lesson plans based on teaching online or in-person.

The district said Thanksgiving break will run from Nov. 21-29, with a winter break from Dec. 19 through Jan. 3, 2021. Spring break runs from March 13-21, 2021.

Students' last day of school will be June 9, 2021.

Grego said families had two options to chose from when it came to their children's education: in-person or virtual. Roughly 60 percent who responded to the district's survey chose virtual learning, while about 40 percent opted for back in school.

However, approximately 40,000 families didn't respond to the survey, according to a district spokesperson, so those students are automatically lumped into the in-school category. The district will attempt to reach out to these families.

Face masks will be required for both students and staff.

Outside the meeting, families and teachers protested for a virtual-only start to the new school year until the area sees a 14-day decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases. It was organized by a group called Tampa Bay for a Safe Return to Campus.

"My worst-case scenario is that I'm going to have to go to a student funeral," said Christy Foust, a high school teacher in the district. "

Grego said the delay will give them critical extra time to work out some important protocols, like what to do if a student or teacher tests positive for coronavirus.

"We need answers to the point so that at the end of the day, if someone's positive we need to be able to communicate with families and parents effectively on what the next steps are," Grego said during the school board meeting Tuesday evening.

"It's one of the reasons I'm very happy that the start of school is the 24th and not earlier because we still have a lot of work to do."

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