Critics in West York again target school board policy

West York High School sophomore Ben Carl talks with friends during the Lunch and Learn program Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. The program allows students time during the school hours for lunch and participation in various school activities of their choosing. Bill Kalina photo

Several members of a group with a history of criticizing the West York Area school board's decision-making process are now taking aim at a proposed change to the district's daily schedule.

The group's members, who earlier this year lampooned the adoption of high school program Lunch and Learn, claimed Tuesday, Dec. 10, that the board was again rushing into a decision without appropriate public input or transparency. 

"I don't feel as educators we should use our students as guinea pigs," said Jennifer Myers, who once created a petition against Lunch and Learn, a program that added additional educational and social opportunities to an 80-minute lunch period.

The West York schedule change proposed for the 2020-21 school year would add an extra block to the high school's four-block schedule and reduce class time to 65-minute periods.

Board member Todd Gettys commended the process for the schedule change as being more forthcoming than earlier district decisions.

"I’m not so much concerned with the outcome at this point. I'm concerned about the process." he said, noting that with the schedule change, the district engaged stakeholders earlier than it had previously.

In late spring, Myers and a number of other residents spoke out against the district, accusing it of ramming through the Lunch and Learn program without addressing their worries that it might lead to an uptick in behavioral problems. 

Officials have hailed the program since its rollout, and an October check-in showed some behavioral issues had actually been reduced.

More:West York lunch program sparks dueling petitions

More:Once controversial, Lunch and Learn working at West York High, officials say

But despite that success, residents who were critical of the program still took issue with it being passed too quickly with unanswered questions and a lack of early public input, and some said the block schedule proposal renews those issues.

Former Lunch and Learn critic Shawn Harlacher said the district is again "going into something without enough detail, without enough thought." He is now concerned how the new block will affect that program.

Harlacher and a student who spoke at the Tuesday meeting countered that, once again, aspects of the plan were being discussed in committees, so residents are not hearing enough about them.

"The only thing I can say is change scares everybody," said board President Suzanne Smith after the meeting.

Block scheduling has been discussed in the board's educational programming and curricular committees, which are open to the public, and West York already hosted a public roundtable on the issue, Smith said.

The five-block schedule would better serve students, with benefits such as more electives, flexibility with AP classes and cross-curricular project-based learning opportunities, said high school Principal Carrie Jones.

West York's current four-block has been in place for more than 20 years without much evaluation, she said, adding that this time there would be continual assessment.

“I think that is crucial going forward,” Jones said.

The five-block is more unusual, she confirmed. Myers noted that Dallastown Area School District has five periods but runs on a trimester schedule versus a block.

Rising junior Madge Myers, daughter of Jennifer Myers, who started a petition to stop the West York Area School District Lunch and Learn program, speaks out for her classmates on why the program won't work. Madge Myers, and her mother Jennifer, both spoke out against the district's proposed schedule change at a board meeting Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (Photo: Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)

Most board members were not against the proposal but raised some questions about ensuring its implementation ran smoothly and didn't create problems down the road.

“I’m pretty excited about the five-block schedule,” board member Brandy Shope said, noting it would push students to use time more wisely and reduce learning gaps with the timing of offered classes.

Board Vice President Jeanne Herman, however, said she felt it was rushed and that there were too many pieces left to be figured out for all four years. She said the district needed the vision for those years upfront.

"To let this sit on the shelf for another year would be very difficult," Davies said, noting that moving forward will give teachers motivation to start building new course curriculum.

Davonna Rickard, who applied for an open school board spot that was eventually filled by board member Douglas Hoover, said although her daughter enjoys Lunch and Learn, there are still a number of issues that arose, which is what happens when there's not enough prior planning.

Shope asked Jones if she could perhaps answer a list of written questions if parents provided them, and she said yes.

The timeline for the schedule approval is a second presentation in the EPC meeting 5:30 p.m. Jan. 21, a roundtable discussion 6:30 p.m. Jan. 28 and a board vote on course selection in February.

If approved, Jones would go forward with building the schedule in March.