By LINDA CHION KENNEY
Set to meet again this week to reconsider this year’s school reopening plans, the Hillsborough County School Board took action July 28 on several issues affecting Greater Riverview area students, including charter schools, vaping, school boundary changes and the Bishop Road plot purchased for school construction.
Meanwhile, the board also discussed its decision five days earlier to push back the school reopening date for students to Aug. 24, from Aug. 10. That decision is to be revisited at a special board meeting set to begin Thursday, Aug. 6, at 9:30 a.m. Teachers returned to school July 31.
“To be very clear, none of this is going to be easy, whether it’s transitioning to opening our doors or going to eLearning,” School Superintendent Addison Davis said. “There’s so many complexities on both sides [of this issue].”
Board member Tamara Shamburger, who has advocated for eLearning for the first nine weeks of school, took a firm stance. “I am frustrated because the decision to reopen schools should be a public health issue,” Shamburger said. “This shouldn’t be politically motivated or based on who yells the loudest or who sends the most emails. Or it shouldn’t even be about personal choice. It saddens me there are simply no easy answers for the seven of us to make for 24,000 employees and 215,000 students . . . inevitably there are going to be a lot of unhappy folks with whatever decision we make.”
In other action, school board members voted July 28 to join nine other Florida school districts in a lawsuit against the manufacturers, distributors and sellers of electronic cigarettes and vaping products to students.
According to school officials, juvenile vaping is widespread in Hillsborough County, having dramatically increased in recent years, with medical evidence supporting the severe risks involved, including nicotine addiction, behavior and mental health problems, cardiovascular disease, cancer and breathing issues.
The board voted as well to approve the charter for Riverview Academy High School, set to open for the 2021-22 school year on the campus of Riverview Academy of Math and Sciences, at 9906 Symmes Road. Replicating the educational design of Bell Creek Academy High School in Riverview, the new charter high school is designed to offer a traditional, STEM curriculum, with options for Advanced Placement and dual enrollment classes and the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) diploma.
Enrollment preference will be given to students enrolled at the Riverview Academy of Math and Sciences, a tuition-free public charter school for kindergarten through grade 8. The high school is set to offer in its first year grades 9 and 10, with a projected enrollment of 350 students. Enrollment is projected to grow to 900 students in grades 9 through 12 by the school’s fifth year, drawing students from Bloomingdale, East Bay, Riverview and Spoto high schools.
Also approved unanimously was the application for the first RISE charter school in Hillsborough County, set to open in 2021-22 with a STEM-based curriculum, featuring project-based learning, small learning communities and laboratory classrooms focused on Renewable Industries for Sustainable Energy (RISE). Approved for grades 6 through 12, the school in its first year is projected to enroll 800 students in grades 6-8. That number is expected to grow to 1,500 students in grades 6-12 by the school’s fifth year. The proposed school property is in the Sun City Center area, with a location yet to be determined. The school would draw students from Eisenhower and Shields middle schools and Lennard High.
Faced with growing enrollments and underutilized school space, the board approved a new process for determining school boundary changes aimed to increase transparency and clarify the decision-making process. Included is a list of proposed attendance boundary changes (for planning purposes only), which is expected to change over time, depending on such factors as the pace of residential growth, impact fee collections and school site land purchases.
A new pre-kindergarten through grade 8 school is set to open in Waterset in 2022, drawing students from Barrington, Shields, Eisenhower, Turkey Creek and Rodgers middle schools. Boundary review is set to being this winter.
Classroom additions to Spoto High and Wimauma Elementary are set to open in 2022, affecting Riverview and Brandon high schools and Reddick and Cypress Creek elementary schools, respectively. Likewise, adding grades 6 through 8 to Collins Elementary would affect Eisenhower and Rodgers middle schools. These boundary changes are set for review in spring 2021.
A new high school — now known as High School UUU — would affect East Bay, Lennard, Sumner, Bloomingdale, Brandon and Newsome high schools. The new school is expected to open in 2025, contingent upon school site approval. Boundary review is set for spring 2023.
Board members received an update on the Bishop Road school site they purchased for school construction, contingent on County approval, which has not yet been granted due to transportation concerns in the area yet to be developed but platted for 900 residential units. Chris Farkas, the school district’s chief of operations, urged the board to appeal the County’s decision because land in the area is sparse and “We need this school.” The board approved the measure.
To view school board meetings live or after the fact, visit www.schoolboard.hcpswebcasts.com. Closed-caption transcripts are available as well. Visit the school district at www.sdhc.k12.fl.us or call 813-272-4000. For upcoming boundary changes and proposals, visit www.sdhc.k12.fl.us/doc/251.