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West Shore schools to reopen wholly online, transition later

Graduate Amarilys Cruz reacts to the personalization on the back of the iPad gifted to her by her brother Luis Cruz (not pictured) following the Red Land High School Commencement 2020 at West Shore Stadium in Camp Hill, Friday, July 10, 2020. There would be 271 graduates receiving diplomas during two outdoor ceremonies splitting the class alphabetically to allow for social distancing. Dawn J. Sagert photo

West Shore is the first district in York County to consider a fully online reopening at the start of the school year, with students returning later in  phases. 

The decision was driven by recent trends leaning more toward a shutdown than toward a “back-to-normal’ approach — as schools had been led to believe was on the horizon with the green phase, officials said.

“In the last two weeks, we have received a universal masking order, recommended quarantines following travel to approximately 20 states, and limitation on group sizes,” reads a district notice posted July 17.

More:Now it's an order: Masks required when leaving home in Pa.

The notice came one day after the Pennsylvania Department of Education released updated guidance for schools with more stringent requirements for in-person instruction.

Given all those changes, the district is proposing to start its school year on Aug. 25 with distance learning, with plans to eventually transition students back to school. 

All students would attend school virtually through Sept. 18, and the following week a limited number of students would return to classrooms, with priority given to elementary and high-needs special education students.

Whether that second phase is possible under current guidance would be decided at the Sept. 10 board meeting.

More students would be introduced into the population throughout Phase 2, but dates for Phase 3 —a full reopening — are yet to be decided.

More:State education secretary backs 'hybrid' reopening plan

“The things that we’re sharing tonight come from a place of health and safety for everyone,” said Superintendent Todd Stoltz at the board’s July 16 meeting.

The district is responsible for staff and students, he said. How to go about successfully maintain 6 feet of social distancing and determining the number of students to bring back in the various phases are still in the works, he said. 

School board members were supportive of the plan, but board member Sheri Moyer warned that the district needed to take care to give working parents as much notice as possible and to ensure distance learning is more robust than in the spring.

“I don’t think there’s been any decision that’s weighed as heavy on my heart and mind as this has,” she said.

Nolan Matseur, 6, works on a number tracing worksheet under the watchful eye of his father Andrew as the Mount Wolf family have had to juggle homeschooling during the pandemic shutdown. Wednesday, March 25, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Several districts in the county have been revamping their virtual learning options —including some that have developed full cyber programs in an effort to keep students from flocking to cyber charters.

More:Is there a plan? Attendance at local school board meetings surges as back-to-school looms

Those districts, as well as West Shore, have  emphasized that their remote learning plans would in no way continue with the status quo of spring education which, for many, was sub-par.

West Shore announced its full-time virtual learning model for the start of the school year would be “Distance Learning 2.0,” and would include direct instruction and video lessons, small group and collaborative opportunities, graded assignments and assessments and attendance checks.

District officials also noted there would be support and services for students with special needs, counseling and mental health support services and access to free bagged meals.

West Shore's virtual board meeting had more than 700 viewers on July 16.

Discussion of quarantine protocols and safety with social distancing, especially in the cafeteria and on buses, as well as concern over the rigors of distance learning were shared  during public comment.

Some wanted distance learning to remain one option, but not the only option — either for parents who were not ready to send students back or working parents for whom distance learning would be a struggle.

More:Schools or bars? Opening classrooms may mean hard choices

Others were adamant a school reopening could not happen, especially since recent guidance noted only 25 people should be gathering in an indoor space.

The board did not take action on a plan yet but will be required to approve a health and safety plan before the first day of in-person learning.

West Shore's next scheduled meeting is Aug. 13.