Southern York schools to move K-8 students to all in-person classes

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
Third graders Jassidy Pownall-Toledo, 9; Ava O'Connor, 9; Layla Riker, 8, and Isabelle Resch, 9, work on computer science activities in Southern York County School District. The district will be one of four in the county to initiate Computer Science for All -- a unit that would integrate computer science with several subjects including math and language arts, in the spring of 2020.

The Southern York County School District will transition its K-8 students to a fully in-person model in March, following a growing trend of York County districts expanding in-class options.

The school board voted 6-3 Thursday night to return four of its schools, teaching grades K-8, to in-person classes five days per week. Grades K-6 will return to class five days a week starting March 8, while grades 7 and 8 will make the switch March 22. Susquehannock High School will be the only school in the district to maintain a hybrid model, which sees students in the classroom two days per week. 

The high school holds an overall higher COVID-19 case record compared with the other district schools, according to a presentation by Assistant Superintendent Robert Bryson. His presentation showed that Susquehannock High School has recorded 53 COVID-19 cases among students since August, while none of the district's remaining four schools has recorded more than 20 cases in the same period. 

More:Susquehannock High School remains open despite high COVID-19 cases

More:Closer Look: A year into COVID pandemic, York County teachers face exhaustion

Bryson said K-6 students will transition earlier to five days of classes per week because their research found that younger students struggle more with virtual learning and are less likely to transmit the disease. Transitioning grades 7 and 8 on March 8 would mean switching their instruction model in the middle of a marking period, which could affect their grades, he said. 

Families will still have the option of the district's digital academy if parents or students are uncomfortable with the new schedule, Bryson said. 

Other York County school districts are steadily reopening their schools as well. The York City School District transitioned its schools from fully remote to a hybrid schedule this month, and York Suburban School District's board voted to reopen its four elementary schools for classes four days a week starting March 1. 

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

More:York City School District to begin reopening buildings

The decisions follow new state and national guidance promoting  the reopening of schools. In January, state officials recommended Pennsylvania elementary schools reopen full time. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance noting that in-person instruction can resume safely with masks, social distancing and other precautions.

Some Southern York board members challenged the proposal. Board member Deborah Kalina expressed concern that opening schools full time would not allow social distancing. 

Bryson said he is not sure how effective social distancing will be because he doesn't know how many students will be filling the classrooms yet. He said some students may not be 6 feet apart, but the district will keep track of those students to ensure they quarantine when cases are reported. 

Kalina also asked why it was necessary to reopen schools so late in the school year.

"What's the risk-benefit ratio?" she said. 

Bryson said while the district's hybrid model worked for the pandemic, many students are still struggling with their grades, attendance and mental health. Superintendent Sandra Lemmon added that there is a big difference between attending classes two days a week and attending five days a week. 

"Every single day is absolutely critical," she aid. 

Kalina, along with board members Judi Fisher and Kelly Jarvis, were the three dissenting votes on the motion.