West York board narrowly OKs Lunch and Learn

West York Area High School

The heavily debated Lunch and Learn program at West York Area High School was approved Tuesday night  by a 5-4 school board vote.

Nearly half of the board members attempted to delay program's launch for a year, but those in favor of approving it advocated for trusting district officials. 

"I think the high school administration is ready for this," Superintendent Todd Davies said, noting that it's a decision he believes the district will look back on with pride.

At a community forum last week, several parents and taxpayers spoke out about the program, which would create an 80-minute block during the day in which students would split their time between lunch and options such as meeting with teachers, quiet study and extracurricular activities.

That was after hundreds signed petitions both for and against the proposed program. 

A few dozen taxpayers showed up to Tuesday's board meeting and applauded board members who echoed their prior concerns about safety, how the program's success would be measured and whether it had academic merit.

Tracy Conrad reassures the West York Area School Board that the community is not against the Lunch and Learn program but wants to understand it and be confident the district is ready to move forward. (Photo: Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)

More:West York board doubles-back, will vote on Lunch and Learn

Shawn Harlacher, of West Manchester Township, gave the sole public comment on the program Tuesday night, reinforcing one of the residents' biggest concerns: transparency.

"There's a lot of questions that are unanswered that the community has," he said.

Board Vice President Jeanne Herman said the district is due for a class schedule change in the 2020-21 school year, and it would be better to push back Lunch and Learn a year so both of those changes can happen concurrently.

"Waiting builds trust and allows for parent involvement and buy-in," she said.

Four board members — Herman, Douglas Hoover, Donald Carl and Suzanne Smith —  voted to postpone the program's rollout for a year.

More:West York lunch program sparks dueling petitions

But they were out-voted by the five members in favor of an immediate launch.

Board member George Margetas said if the administration and staff believe the program is ready to go this year, the board should trust them.

"When your engine's messed up — I'm not a mechanic, I take it to the shop," he said.

But Hoover countered that this administration has only been in the district for a year, and although the board has supported Davies' long-term plan, this program was not part of that.

More: West York board approves 3-day kindergarten, SROs as part of 3-year agenda

Smith said after listening to parents and following up with her own research, she agrees there are some gaps with safety, measurement of success and unanswered questions.

Board member Lynn Kohler said it's not the board's place to be concerned with how the program would work — that's for staff and administration to do.

"Successful sports teams are ones that all the players know their role," he said.

He addressed the public's desire to be more involved, saying the board's opened up committee meetings to the public and held meetings more frequently. Members want to know how better to communicate with residents, he said.

"I hear you guys saying that you hear (residents), but I don't really think you're listening," Carl said.

Herman challenged the assertion that it's not the board's place to interfere because, she said, citing local board procedures, "the board shall act as the general agent of the residents." 

And sometimes the board is the only voice parents have, Carl added.

Margetas said it's not like the administration threw the idea at a dart board. It's been on the agenda for six months, he said, and he's sorry the public didn't pick up on it.

This process helped the board learn effectiveness of communication, said board President Todd Gettys, and he encouraged people to come to committee meetings early on. The Educational Program Committee will address scheduling, he said.

"If you bring parents in, you bring that perspective in too soon," he said, because the decision needs to be made for all students — not based on concerns for select groups, such as student-athletes. 

The program's immediate rollout was approved 5-4, with the same four members who voted for the postponement opposed.