The classroom of Pride Elementary teacher Fonda Tolliver (2nd from right) was filled with mask-wearing parents and students when the school held its open house for the 2021-22 school year on August 6. (Photo by Charmaine George)

In June, there was hope and optimism. The number of Covid-19 infections were down, the battle seemed to be turning in the wake of vaccinations, and a return to a normal school year — after a year that no one was eager to repeat —seemed closer than ever.

 In July, a variant of Covid, a stronger and even more contagious version called Delta, began popping up in news stories. Infections began to spread, and so did concern.

In August, with numbers higher than they have been at any point since the pandemic began, schools across Hillsborough County and New Tampa opened on August 10.

What a difference a few weeks makes.

“In June, we thought we would be starting the school year in a much more normal situation,” said Chiles Elementary principal Teresa Evans. “I think everyone’s a little disappointed to be back to something like last year….but our community has been very cooperative, and we’re expecting a great year. But, we’re not through this pandemic yet. There’s still challenges to rise to meet.”

Without a mask mandate this year, however, some teachers and parents expressed reservations about the new school year. Those fears are being realized as Covid-19 numbers in schools continue to rise.

On Monday, the Hillsborough County School District reported that 5,600 students have either tested positive or are in quarantine due to exposure. That number has jumped to 8,400 today, and includes more than 300 school employees

As a result, the Hillsborough County Public School Board will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday from 1 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. in the School Board Auditorium to discuss ways to mitigate the spread of the virus in county schools, which have only been open for five days.

Mask wearing is likely to make up most of the debate. Superintendent Addison Davis reversed course and required them for all students, but did allow for parents to opt their children out of the policy. The new requirement will be in place until Sept. 3, when it will be re-examined.

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