Some York County school districts extend closures until April 14

Fresh vinyl gloves are at the ready during the school lunch program at Dallastown High School Monday, March 16, 2020. The school district is offering grab-n-go meals to students weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the Coronavirus emergency. Bill Kalina photo

York County public school superintendents once again are aiming to be ahead of the curve, with some extending school closures for the coronavirus until April 14.

At least seven districts — Dallastown Area, West York Area, Central York, York City, Eastern York, York Suburban and Hanover Public school districts — announced their decision Tuesday, a day after the Pennsylvania Department of Education extended closures statewide through April 6.

Under the state order, students would return April 9, two days after faculty and staff would head back to work.

Dallastown Area Superintendent Joshua Doll said it was a collective decision among York County superintendents to extend that closure beyond the state's mandate. But most other districts in the county have yet to confirm they, too, will also remain closed until April 14.

"I know this is a challenging time for families, and that this extended closure adds to the disruption to our students, staff, and families; however, this response is necessary," Doll said in a statement Tuesday.

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West Shore will follow the state's earlier reopening date, officials said Tuesday. Red Lion Area is waiting on guidance from the state. Northern York County board members were scheduled to debate the issue Tuesday night.

"No decision has been made yet," said Northern spokeswoman Vangie Unti.

Gov. Tom Wolf's original order shuttering schools was set to expire March 30, leading the state Education Department to extend it to April 7. 

But West York Area Superintendent Todd Davies said based on the state's timeline and district calendar, students should not return until April 14. Officials at Hanover Public and Eastern said the change was made because the state's planned reopening falls during the district's scheduled spring break.

"It’s clearly not business as usual in West York, or anywhere in the world for that matter," Davies said in a district statement released Tuesday, noting that this closure could be subject to change based on guidance from the Education Department or the governor.

Closures could be extended again if necessary to save lives and stop the threat of COVID-19 — a dangerous respiratory disease contracted from the spread of the new coronavirus and now a global pandemic, state officials said.

As of Tuesday there were 851 confirmed cases in the state — a jump of 207 from just one day before — and eight new cases in York County, bringing the local total to 18.

In counties more heavily affected by the virus — Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Monroe, Montgomery and Philadelphia — Wolf on Monday ordered residents to stay at home. On Tuesday, he added Erie County to the list.

More:UPDATED: Pa. COVID-19 total up to 644, four new deaths

The extension of school closures falls in line with this directive, said Education Secretary Pedro Rivera in a news release.

“The number of positive cases increases daily and we’re seeing it spread to more counties. We must adhere to the social distancing guidelines," he stated. "Extending the closure will help every community in its efforts to mitigate the spread.”

The extreme circumstances in Italy offer a “somewhat fair comparison” for what could be in store for Pennsylvania, said state Department of Health spokeswoman Nate Wardle.

“It’s the only opportunity we have to prevent coronavirus (and) COVID-19 from overrunning our hospitals,” he said, given that the state's population is tilted toward older residents who are more vulnerable to the disease.

If residents follow the directives to stay home, it’s likely students will be able to return this year, he said.

“These decisions are not made lightly,” Wardle said. “We know that kids want to be back in school, teachers want to be teaching.”

But if the outbreaks worsen over the next few weeks, “that’s not going to be a reality,” he added.

Doll took the opportunity on Monday to encourage his high school seniors in the midst of uncertainty.

“I want to begin by saying I am sorry. I am sorry that your senior year has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. I am sorry that the last few months of what you have worked toward for 13 years is fleeting before your eyes," he said in an online post.

But being the class that was born post-9/11 and witnessed "countless" school shootings, "I believe that through your determination and grit, you will be the generation that creates cures," he said.

School districts have yet to announce any cancellations or postponements of proms or graduations.

"We are currently evaluating how the new directive will impact our students, staff, and community," Spring Grove Area Superintendent George Ioannidis said in a statement about the closure Tuesday.

Rivera stated that all 29 of Pennsylvania’s intermediate units would be on hand to provide technical assistance and help schools develop remote learning plans.

Many schools have been preparing online learning plans or resources in the week leading up to the department's announcement.

Prior to Monday’s announcement, local districts in York County were holding off from providing instruction to preserve flexible instruction days or to ensure they would be offering equity of learning for special education and English language learners.

As of Tuesday, several district updates noted that instruction would be provided remotely beginning Monday, March 30.

"Although we do not know when we will return to normal operations (or what will become our new normal), we are preparing each day for the eventual return of students to our care," according to a statement posted last week by Red Lion Area School District.

Both Red Lion and West York Area school districts have noted officials are working on what to do about extended staff pay. A statement from West York said staff pay would continue until at least April 14.

State standardized tests were canceled for the school year last Thursday, and the U.S. Department of Education approved a waiver for federal requirements Friday. That department also waived accountability and reporting requirements for the year.

On Monday, Rivera canceled career and technical education exams as well.