Parents, students protest York City School District's hybrid plan

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch

A group of 14 parents and students gathered on a windy Friday afternoon to protest the York City School District plan that would soon reopen physical classrooms.

The district plans to move to a hybrid model Feb. 8, giving parents the choice to send their children to school two days a week or to enroll in the district's online school, Bearcat Cyber Academy. All schools in the district have been operating fully online since the start of the school year. 

The group held the protest for about an hour Friday in a corner of the district office parking lot in downtown York City. Parents and students held signs with messages such as "Our kids, our choice," "Health and safety first" and "Stay safe, stay on Zoom."

Several parents expressed frustration that the district would not continue offering their virtual model, and said both new options would limit their students' interaction with teachers. 

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:Parents protest York City School District's hybrid plan

More:York City School District to begin reopening buildings

York City parent Jestine Malloy speaks in protest of York City School District's recent decision to transition to a hybrid learning plan at the administration office in York City, Friday, Jan. 29, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Parent Tara Gilbert, who organized the protest, said the plan will cut student-teacher interaction by more than half. In the district's current virtual model, students work directly with teachers four to five days a week over Zoom. 

Gilbert also started a petition on change.org to keep the district in its virtual model. As of Friday afternoon, the petition had 198 signatures. 

More:York City parents' change.org petition

Parent Jestine Malloy, who has two children in the district, said she feels district officials lied to her about the hybrid plan. She said she initially thought the hybrid model would have students continuing in their current virtual environment for the three days they weren't in the classroom. 

The real online option available to her under the plan will not work for either of Malloy's children, she said, but she doesn't want them to participate in the hybrid model either. She said she is concerned that her students could unknowingly spread COVID-19 to their teachers. 

"I don't know what I'm going to do," Malloy said. 

As of Friday, York City School District had recorded four active COVID-19 cases across four district schools within 14 days, even though all schools remain closed except for staff and some students. William Penn Senior High School was closed to all students and staff this week because of COVID-19. 

More:Central York High School, William Penn close temporarily due to COVID-19 cases

Several parents expressed concern over how the district will keep schools open if they're already seeing COVID-19 transmissions before moving to hybrid. Malloy said she doubts the schools will stay open long. 

Gilbert said district teachers have expressed support for the protest. At least two parents, including Malloy, said they came to the protest because teachers contacted them to indicate their support. Malloy said many teachers don't feel like they can express their opinion because district officials shut them down. 

York City School District is one of the only districts in the county operating fully online. Other districts are operating in a hybrid model, and received support from parents for doing so. 

Patricia Cox, of York City, makes a sign in protest of York City School District's recent decision to transition to a hybrid learning plan at the administration office in York City, Friday, Jan. 29, 2021. Cox has two students in the school system. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The difference is that York City School District is located within the city, where people are closer together and COVID-19 is more easily transmissible, parent Robyn Allen said. 

"We're living on top of each other," Allen said. 

About 22 parents and teachers testified against the hybrid plan at a Jan. 20 school board meeting, but board members ultimately approved the plan in a 5-2 vote. Gilbert said several parents reached out to the district since then but have not heard much response. 

"The School District of the City of York respects the right to peaceful protest and continues to work to make decisions that best meet the needs of the students and staff in the School District of the City of York," district officials said in a statement Friday.

Gilbert said she is not aware of any changes to the district's hybrid plan so far. She said she is planning to organize more protests.