TAMPA, Fla. — The big day has arrived.

It’s the first day of school for most Bay area students. Pinellas County students get to sleep in one more day as they start Wednesday.

This year might look a little different due to the rise in COVID cases. But all of the Bay area school districts say they've been preparing for months to get all the kids back safely.

What You Need To Know

  • First day of school in all Bay area counties except Pinellas, which returns Wednesday

  • Only Hillsborough County is requiring students to wear masks

  • BN9: Back-to-school | What you need to know

When it comes to face coverings all districts but one are keeping the optional mask policy in place.

Only Hillsborough County is requiring students to wear masks.

The district made mask-wearing mandatory for students unless parents went online to opt out. And there’s still time to do it.

Teachers have the option not to wear masks as well. Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis asked families to trust him.

“I just want you to feel comfortable that we’re going to do everything we can, not only to create a safe environment, but to really prepare your children to discover endless possibilities and do some great things academically,” Davis said.

Also, coronavirus is expected to pose a challenge in the schools.

A bus driver shortage will pose another challenge.  The district in need of 100 drivers this year: That’s more than they’ve ever needed before.


Polk County is welcoming new Superintendent Fredrick Heid as the school year kicks off.

Wearing a mask is still optional for students this year but the CDC and the Florida Department of Health strongly suggest wearing them.

Unlike last year, students, staff and visitors will not be required to complete temperature screenings upon arrival.

Also for those kids taking the bus to school this year, the buses will ride at full capacity.

Overall, Polk County is asking parents and students to do a great deal of self-monitoring as we’re going into this new school year.


There’s a lot of excitement for both students and teachers today at Starkey Ranch K-8, the county’s newest school.

And there’s a lot here that makes this unique in Pasco.  For one, it is the first time there is a public K-8 school in the county.

It’s going to help take some students away from Odessa Elementary and River Ridge Middle which were both crowded last year.

Pasco County Schools followed the lead of other nearby districts that use this format and found success with it.

“There’s a lot of research nationally about giving that children that family environment for the full 9 years, vs 5 or 6,” said Starkey Ranch K-8 Principal Courtney Gantt. “We can support them in the areas they need support in. Most importantly, we can help the children stay connected with the school socially and emotionally for 9 years and build a family feeling.”

The other thing that helps is that families can stay together here which makes things easier for parents when all the kids are in the same school.


In a big shift from last year, parents are allowed on school campuses today.

So they get to have that special moment walking their child into their class for the first time that just so many parents and students missed out on last year.


Teachers in Hernando are taking into account the long break that students have had from being inside of school buildings because of COVID or summer break.

Also, the Hernando e-school is the district's long standing virtual school and is fully staffed with its own principal and teachers.

Online study in Hernando County existed well before the pandemic. In 2020 enrollment numbers averaged around 70 students.

As students head back to the classroom for the 2021-2022 school year, the district says their e-school enrollment numbers have nearly doubled with 127 students.


Although this summer was shorter than normal of course due to the pandemic, Citrus schools are ready to open those doors, including at Central Ridge elementary.

“In the summer it’s that energy you start to feel when staff returns and then the kids return and the families return and now it’s a school again,” said Central Ridge Principal Chris Bosse.