(HILLSBOROUGH, Fla.) — Just a week into the school year, some 8,400 students in and 307 employees of the Hillsborough County Public Schools district in Florida have been isolated or quarantined as districts across the state grapple with COVID-19.
Hillsborough is the seventh-largest school district in the U.S., with more than 213,000 students.
In total, there were 1,695 COVID-19 cases among students and staff, according to the Tampa-area district’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The district is requiring masks for students, but parents can opt-out their children. To date, at least 28,000 parents have opted out, district officials told ABC News.
The district has scheduled an emergency school board meeting Wednesday to discuss how to respond to the crisis.
District officials said they’re providing PPE and sanitation stations for each classroom, and have installed MERV-13 filters at each school.
“As we work to create the safest environment for our students and staff, we also must abide by the governor’s executive order, as well as emergency rules from the Department of Health and state Board of Education. This requires our district to preserve a parent’s right to choose to wear a face covering in school,” a spokesperson for the district told ABC News. “The Governor has been clear that if school districts do not abide by this order, they could face financial consequences.”
Last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an emergency order giving parents the final say over masks for kids in school. At a press conference last month, he said Florida students shouldn’t be “muzzled,” adding, “We need them to be able to breathe.”
Elizabeth Devolder pulled her two children, who are in fifth and second grade, out of school to voluntarily quarantine them due to the “terrifying” rising number of virus cases.
“Although they were not immediately exposed, and they’re not required to quarantine, I felt like why do we have to wait for our kids to get sick before we take action?” she said to ABC Tampa affiliate WFTS.
The district is offering face-to-face instruction as well as virtual classes for the 2021-22 academic year.
The Bay Area of Florida has seen an uptick in virus cases. In Pinellas County, 361 cases among students and staff have been reported this school year, while in Sarasota 227 have been reported and in Manatee that figure stands at 480, according to those districts’ respective dashboards.
Mounting COVID-19 cases in schools are a rising concern as communities head back to in-person learning, especially as children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for vaccines.
Florida currently has the country’s highest COVID-19 case rate. The state reported 151,415 new cases from Aug. 6 to Aug. 12 and 286 deaths, with a new-case positivity rate of 19.3%, according to its latest weekly COVID-19 report. And cases among children are up, with over 31,700 new cases reported last week among those 19 years old or younger.
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