Hillsborough leaders schedule emergency meeting after 8,400 students now quarantined due to COVID-19

Hillsborough County Public Schools will hold a meeting Wednesday to figure out how to manage the impact of COVID-19 on classrooms and staff.

The number of students quarantined for COVID-19 or isolated for exposure to the virus grew Tuesday to 4% of the student population, with 1,600 students and staff testing positive. A total of 8,400 students and 300 staff are in quarantine. 

That’s up from 5,599 quarantines and 929 known cases yesterday. For comparison, the district had a total of 8,771 cases from March of 2020 through August 1, 2021.


New staff cases (light blue) and student cases (dark blue), with the most recent date on the left. (Source: HCPS)

LINK: HCPS COVID-19 dashboard

"We absolutely need a mask mandate from [6 years old and younger], elementary school, where kids can't get vaccinated," school board member Jessica Vaughn said. 

Complicating things is that the board also found out Tuesday night that two other Florida districts that are requiring masks can be punished by the state for doing so.

Mask requirements at two districts, Alachua and Broward, were the subject of a state Board of Education virtual meeting Tuesday night. 

After almost three hours of questioning officials at both districts, the board voted unanimously to punish them. 

MORE: State education board takes aim at districts over mask mandates

The governor says he can dock the salaries of district leaders.

"We have districts who are picking and choosing what laws they want to follow," said state education commissioner Richard Corcoran. 

It's up to the state commissioner of education to decide on how those two districts can be punished. Other districts are trying to get as many students vaccinated as they can.

RELATED: US Department of Education says it's 'deeply concerned' about DeSantis' ban on school mask mandates

Hillsborough County says masks in school are mandatory, but to comply with the governor’s executive order banning mask mandates, parents are allowed to exempt their kids from the rule. 

As of a week ago, there were over 26,000 opt-outs; about 14% of the district's students.

District policy is to isolate students for at least seven days after close, un-masked contact, though vaccinated students do not have to isolate unless they show symptoms.

Alex Sessons has a fresh band-aid, and the McKeel Academy student's dad, Vincent, couldn't be more relieved.

"Anything we can do to give him some extra protection so he doesn't have to deal with those issues, of being sick, we'll definitely do it," Vincent Sessons said.

His charter school has had at least a dozen infections, while Polk County public schools say it has had 111 students and 156 staff test positive or are assumed to be. 

Without e-learning as an option this year, there is no way for healthy isolated or asymptomatic quarantined children to learn from home unless their teachers send lessons and work. That means 4 percent of the students in the district are missing in-person instruction.

RELATED: Record pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations reported amid delta surge

Vaccines were offered Tuesday at Bryant Stadium in Polk County to anyone 12 and up.

"I think it is just important to follow the science," said Sessons. "If they say wearing a mask is important and it cuts the spread, then put on a mask."

Students who got vaccinated in Polk County said they had no desire to wind up on either the lists of those positive, or quarantined.

"A lot of people aren't wearing masks and stuff. I decided to wear mine to keep myself safe," said Yeivelice Montalvo, a student at Haines City High School. 

The Biden administration has said districts could be reimbursed through CARES Act funds for any docked salaries under this policy.

The Hillsborough County meeting starts at 1 p.m. Wednesday. Public comment will be allowed, but limited to an hour.

Sarasota County's school board also scheduled an emergency meeting for Friday at 3 p.m.