Parents protest York City School District's hybrid plan

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
(Logo) empty classroom, truancy. York City School District has struggled with student truancy issues, recently remarking a need for more school attendance officers. The district is considering a grant-funded partnership with York City Police for a truancy officer to help with particularly difficult cases.

A group of parents are protesting the York City School District's decision to transition to hybrid learning effective Feb. 8. 

A Facebook group, with 81 members as of noon Wednesday, is planning a live protest against the plan at 12:30 p.m. Friday at the district's administration office, 31 N. Pershing Ave. A petition to keep the district in virtual learning had garnered 137 signatures as of Wednesday morning. 

More:York City parents' petition

The district's hybrid proposal received strong opposition from parents and board members at a Jan. 20 meeting, but the board ultimately approved the plan in a 5-2 vote. 

"The school board just completely disregarded everything the parents had to say," York City parent Tara Gilbert said. 

York City School District is one of the only districts in York County operating fully virtual, with the remaining districts under a hybrid model or holding in-person instruction five days a week. 

Gilbert, who organized the Facebook group and petition, said she was open to the hybrid model when she first learned of it. When she heard more details, however, she said she was concerned about the lack of teacher-student interaction present in the model. 

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. Students will complete independent remote assignments the remaining three days. 

More:York City School District to begin reopening buildings

This model will cut interaction between students and their teacher by more than half, Gilbert said. In the district's current virtual model, teachers interact with students every day over Zoom, she said. 

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

But Gilbert said this option offers barely any interaction between students and teachers. The only contact would be in short check-ins, she said. Parents who enrolled their students in the cyber academy told Gilbert their students were "left in the dark."

According to a presentation Superintendent Andrea Berry gave at the Jan. 20 meeting, about 70% of families across the district's nine schools preferred the hybrid option over Bearcat Cyber Academy, according to an online survey. 

However, parents who testified at the meeting said they were frustrated that they were not given an option to stay in the district's virtual model in the survey. Gilbert said the survey also did not give parents an opportunity to comment on the options. 

Berry said during the meeting that 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. 

Berry could not immediately be reached for comment on the protest. 

Gilbert argued that it would be possible for teachers to set up a Zoom meeting for students who want to stay virtual and broadcast the lessons they're giving to students who prefer the hybrid model.

The district's hybrid proposal came in response to state officials recommending that school districts return elementary students to in-person learning, arguing that the classroom is the best place for them. 

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

Gilbert said that the district did not need to follow the state guidance, as it was just a recommendation. She said it is not safe for the district to reopen schools because they're in a city, where people are less spread out and COVID-19 is more easily transmissible. The district also has a larger amount of students in racial minority groups, she said, who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic, according to CDC reports. 

Initially, Gilbert said she planned to ask parents not to send their children to school to protest the hybrid plan. But she said there was not enough time to organize the strategy, and parents were concerned about the impact it would have on students. 

Instead Gilbert scheduled the live protest Friday in hopes of getting the school board's attention and urging them to listen to parents when considering their students' education. 

"Ultimately, it's our children," Gilbert said.