York City School District to begin reopening buildings

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
William Penn High School

Despite criticism of a plan to reopen York City School District's schools on a hybrid model, the school board voted 5-2 Wednesday to approve the proposal.

The reopening will begin Feb. 8, giving students the choice to attend school two days a week, with independent remote assignments the remaining three days, or enroll in the district's online Bearcat Cyber Academy to receive online learning five days a week. The district has been operating under a virtual model since the start of the school year. 

The decision comes in the wake of state officials' recommending that school districts return elementary students to in-person learning, arguing that the classroom is the best place for them. York City school board President Michael Breeland said the district was "being pushed" by the state to reopen schools. 

Most York County school districts already had their elementary schools open for in-person instruction at the time of the recommendation from the departments of Health and Education. The York City School District was one of few school districts in the county that operated fully remote for all grade levels. 

More:Most York County school districts out ahead of new state guidance

Board member Carman Bryant pointed out that the guidance was a recommendation, not a requirement. However, Bryant was one of the two votes against the proposal. She said she didn't feel comfortable returning students to the classroom given the rise of COVID-19 cases in the county. 

"It's not stable enough for me," Bryant said. 

York County recorded 564 deaths linked to COVID-19 as of Wednesday, and 29,155 total cases, according to the state Department of Health.

More:COVID-19 kills 14 more in York County

York City School District's hybrid model applies to all K-12 students. Students will be separated into two groups, with each group attending classes in person two days a week. Friday would remain an online learning day for all students. Special education and preschool students would attend class in person four days a week, according to the proposal. 

Families uncomfortable with allowing their students back in the classroom can enroll in Bearcat Cyber Academy for an online-only option. Students with poor attendance records will be required to participate in the hybrid model under the proposal. 

This model will remain in effect for the rest of the school year, according to the proposal.

According to a presentation Superintendent Andrea Berry gave at the meeting, about 70% of families across the district's nine schools preferred the hybrid option over Bearcat Cyber Academy. 

Despite this, 22 parents and teachers testified against the proposal at the meeting. Nobody testified in support of the plan. 

One of the most common concerns was that parents didn't like either the hybrid option or the Bearcat Cyber Academy. Multiple parents said their student felt comfortable in the district's current virtual model and asked why that couldn't remain an option. 

Berry said the virtual model couldn't be an option under the plan because it is impractical to ask teachers to teach students in class and remote at the same time. 

"Resource wise, we cannot manage it," she said. 

Several board members also strongly criticized the proposal. Members brought up multiple concerns, including doubts that the district can adequately enforce social distancing among students or efficiently clean surfaces. 

Board member Tanoue Onishi Sweeney was one of the strongest critics of the proposal at the meeting, even though she ultimately voted to approve it. She said she voted yes as long as the district made "improvements" but did not explain what improvements she was referring to.