York Suburban elementary schools to move to four days of in-person learning

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
Student teacher Brian Baker works with students Bella Newman, left, and Hezekiah Ortiz in an autistic support class at Valley View Elementary School, Dec. 9, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

York Suburban School District's four elementary schools will allow students to return to the classroom for four days a week starting March 1. 

The school board voted 6-3 Monday night to transition its K-5 students out of the district's current hybrid model. York Suburban's middle school and high school will remain in hybrid learning, which sees students in the classroom two days a week. 

The district has operated under the hybrid model since August. Superintendent Timothy Williams said officials went with the hybrid system to ensure all students could be kept 6 feet apart. 

"We thought we were taking the best approach at the time, and I still think we took the best approach at the time," Williams said. 

Williams said he recommended the board allow elementary students to return to class four days a week after he observed other districts holding elementary classes full-time successfully. He said although it is clear these districts are not maintaining 6 feet of distancing between students, they are still keeping their COVID-19 cases low. 

"I'm not going on my gut," Williams said. "I'm not going on my feelings. I'm going on what I've observed."

York Suburban School District has only recorded one COVID-19 case in the last 14 days at its high school, according to the district's COVID-19 dashboard. The district has recorded 88 cases through the school year. 

Last month, state officials recommended Pennsylvania school districts reopen elementary schools for in-person learning, arguing that it was the best place for the students. Board members did not mention this recommendation at the meeting. 

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

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

Wednesday will remain a remote learning day under the four-day schedule, Williams said. This day will be for teachers to transition to their new schedule and eventually will be used to vaccinate staff. 

Williams said he is working with a local pharmacy, which he did not name, that is expected to provide COVID-19 vaccines to York Suburban staff. He said the district needs  250-350 vaccines and indicated the pharmacy could meet that need.

The district offers an online option, Trojan Online Pathways, for families more comfortable with keeping their students in remote learning. 

A majority of the 27 parents who submitted testimony to the meeting supported the four-day plan, although some were concerned about the risks of not distancing and that students and staff would not be vaccinated. 

The board was more split. Several board members indicated that they supported the district reopening all schools for five days a week. Williams said the middle school and high school could reopen later this school year, but he wants vaccinations administered beforehand. 

Other board members expressed concern that the plan would not allow adequate social distancing. Williams admitted that there would be too many students in the school buildings under the plan to keep them all 6 feet apart. 

"I fear it's too much too soon," said board member Lois Ann Schroeder.

Schroeder and board member Steven Sullivan said they were concerned about the risk the plan creates for staff. Board member Michael Thomas refuted that people can "speculate the risks" of COVID-19, but the board knows the risk of students not being in the classroom.

"We know it is detrimental to them, not just educationally, but emotionally," Thomas said. 

Schroeder, Richard Robinson and Steven Scalet were the three votes against the recommendation.