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Tampa Bay area school districts face COVID challenges as kids return from winter break

With no mask mandates allowed in schools, districts said they are working with the Florida Department of Health on mitigation measures that are allowed.

TAMPA, Fla. — Thousands of children in Florida are gearing up to head back to school after winter break. But, some districts in the Tampa Bay area are meeting ahead of their return to talk about mitigation measures.

The superintendent for Pasco County Schools, Kurt Browning, said his staff is seeing a spike in COVID cases. As children prepare to return from break, they anticipate that could happen for kids as well. That's why right now school officials are preparing safety measures, like more cleaning. 

One thing Browning emphasized was Florida school districts face challenges when it comes to some COVID protocols because of the law. 

"One of the things we continue to remind parents of is that we are a little handicapped when it comes to what we can and can’t do. The legislature passed and the governor signed a new law that prohibits us from requiring vaccines, quarantining kids that have been directly exposed to positive cases, as well as, from prohibiting us from requiring masks," Browning explained.

The new law gives parents the right to decide for their children. 

"Given that we have those cards on the table, we just have to do what is in our control and that is making sure kids are sanitizing their hands, washing their hands, social distancing when and where we can," Browning stated.

He explained, while a mask mandate can't be put in place, he is encouraging students and staff to wear them. 

"I would encourage families that want to put their children in masks, to put their children in masks," Browning said.

The superintendent in Hillsborough County, Addison Davis, echoed that message. 

“One thing we know that we will continue to do is encourage masks when you’re indoors," Davis stated.

Some children are eligible for the vaccine and a booster shot. With this, Superintendent Davis explained for anyone comfortable, there are vaccines available. 

“Vaccinations continue to be free of charge and we ask those who are most comfortable with it to continue to help this community," Davis stated.

Davis also stated in Hillsborough they have about 40,000 test kits to distribute to those who need them. 

Other districts, like Hernando and Pinellas, said they will not distribute at-home tests kits. Both districts said they are working with the DOH when it comes to COVID protocols.

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