York Suburban to reopen elementary, middle schools, keep high school hybrid

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
York Suburban Senior High School in Spring Garden Township, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

York Suburban School District will reopen its four elementary schools and one middle school for more in-class instruction in the coming weeks, but high school students will remain on a two-day hybrid schedule. 

The school board voted on three motions regarding reopening Monday night. The motions to reopen for elementary and middle school students passed, but a motion to fully reopen the high school was rejected after the board heard strong opposition from students and parents. 

The middle school will reopen for four days of in-person instruction starting Monday, with Wednesdays as the remaining virtual day, up from the two days of in-person class time students currently have. Elementary students will move from four days of in-person instruction to five days per week starting April 6. 

The recommendations came after more than 2,300 York County educators received the COVID-19 vaccine under a recent plan by Gov. Tom Wolf. Superintendent Timothy Williams said every York Suburban employee who wanted to be vaccinated had received the vaccine as of last weekend. Previously, Williams said the district received 151 doses in the first wave of the rollout. 

More:More than 2,300 York County school employees have received COVID-19 vaccine

More:Lincoln Intermediate Unit to begin vaccinating teachers Thursday, Central York official says

The board was split on each of the decisions. The recommendation to reopen the middle school passed on a 5-4 vote, while the motion to reopen the high school was denied in a 3-6 vote. The recommendation to reopen the elementary schools passed by the largest margin, 8-1. 

More than 60 people submitted comments about the reopening recommendations at the meeting, with the majority of them against the plans. Forty-one comments were against reopening schools, with more than half of those comments coming from high school students.

Many of the students argued that there is little time left in the school year, and most students have gotten comfortable under the hybrid schedule. Several also expressed concern that reopening could lead to higher COVID-19 case numbers and jeopardize end-of-the-year events including prom and graduation. 

Eighteen comments supported the reopening, including one from a middle school student. Most of the remarks said that students wanted to be back in school full time and that in-person instruction was better for students. 

Carly Bowen, student representative for the board, pleaded for board members to listen to the students' comments. She mentioned that in a recent survey, about 70% of York Suburban's high school students said they wanted to stay in a hybrid schedule for the remainder of the school year. 

"Please consider the students' thoughts in your votes, not just personal beliefs," Bowen said. 

Board member Michael Thoman, who was one of the three votes for reopening the high school, said his daughter is a student at York Suburban High School, and she wants to return to the classroom more often. He said many of the students' comments mentioned "self-serving interests," like disruptions to their work schedules, which proves that the students are out in public outside of school and not isolating themselves. 

"They're not curled up at their house not interacting with the general public," Thoman said. 

Board member Joel Sears, who voted against reopening the middle school and high school but supported reopening the elementary schools, said the hybrid model isn't ideal for students but that it is a stable model, which students need. 

"It's the best under the circumstances," Sears said.