South Western School District goes fully remote through end of the year

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
South Western High School in Penn Township, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

South Western School District schools will return from Thanksgiving break under a fully remote model for the rest of the calendar year. 

The school board voted 5-2 at an emergency meeting Wednesday night to transition to a fully remote learning model, effective Tuesday through Dec. 23. Superintendent Jay Burkhart said he hopes the district can return to in-person instruction Jan. 4. 

“I’m disappointed we had to come to this. I really am," Burkhart said. 

The decision comes as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in York County. As of Wednesday, when the decision was made, the county had recorded 10,161 cases and 239 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak. The county is one of 59 in Pennsylvania with substantial COVID-19 transmission. 

As of Sunday, York County's case count had risen to 10,806 with 241 virus-related deaths, according to the state Department of Health

More:York County has 2 new deaths linked to COVID-19, 183 new cases

South Western School District recorded at least 36 cases since the start of the school year, according to its website, with 24 cases recorded in a recent six-day span, Burkhart said. Half of the district's six schools are already operating fully remotely. 

The pandemic has created a staffing shortage, and the district does not have enough substitutes to fill the gaps. Assistant Superintendent Daniel Hartman said the district's substitute fill rate is about 61%, when it is normally between 85% and 90%. The decline is not for lack of substitutes either, as Hartman said the district has added nine substitutes since the beginning of the school year. 

“We just have that many more vacancies," Hartman said. 

Manheim Elementary Principal Mary Kay Kelly said the pandemic also is creating a distraction for students, as they fear catching the virus from their classmates or staff. 

“It’s causing a major obstruction to the learning process each day," Kelly said. 

Going fully remote means that all extracurricular activities within the district are postponed, Burkhart said. Some special education students will still have access to in-person instruction, according to Director of Special Education Robin Hamme. 

More:Schools to decide between remote learning or complying with state regulations

More:Northern York County, South Eastern school districts agree to extra safety regulations

School districts in counties with substantial COVID-19 spread must sign an attestation form agreeing to additional safety regulations by 5 p.m. Monday, in accordance with an order last week from Gov. Tom Wolf.

Failure to sign the form means the school district would have to move to remote learning. At least five York County school districts have already signed the form.