Confusion, dissent as West York school board crafts new reopening plan

West York Area school board members on Tuesday scrapped an earlier plan for a full reopening in favor of a hybrid model.

The administration had pitched a new plan to put students in school four days a week, but before the vote board members amended it to put high school students on a 2-day A/B schedule instead, which would divide students into groups.

Following that change, several board members indicated they were upset the decision was made after public comment had already wrapped up.

In the past, if the board had changed a plan after public comment "there would have been an outcry,” said board member Lynn Kohler.

Decisions in the past year on Lunch and Learn and the high school block schedule drew criticism from some residents who said the public didn't have enough time to weigh in.

Lynn Kohler, right, candidate for West York School Board, greets voters during Election Day at Shiloh Fire Co. in West Manchester Township, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Board members Todd Gettys and George Margetas also criticized the late change, and Margetas penned a lengthy Facebook post immediately following the meeting to express his displeasure with the board's actions.

“Someone please tell me what is going to school 2 days versus 4 solves?” he wrote. “Our staff labored very hard to bring a plan that makes sense. There are members of the board with personal agendas that would rather see things their way than do what is best for our children.”

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District resident Ruth Fletcher argues that parents have not been given enough opportunity to be involved in the West York Area High School Lunch and Learn program proposed for the fall. (Photo: Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)

West York was among the first districts in York to approve a plan, in late June, and Superintendent Todd Davies said the impetus for the change was to give teachers more time to prepare lessons and staff more cleaning time on Wednesdays, when schools would be largely vacant.

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The goal would still be a full reopening, he said, but with one day already blocked off, the district could also more easily pivot to an A/B schedule should COVID-19 cases go up and the county see more restrictions.

Board member Douglas Hoover said that time has already come, and recommended the A/B model.

“If we start out and mitigate correctly and do a hybrid model, then we have a better opportunity to keep kids in school,” added board member Courtney Dennis.

But Kohler said it was not the job of the board to amend plans, but to either vote for or against them.

“I think changing the plan at 8:52 (p.m.) the night of the voting meeting is a bait and switch for our parents and our community,” he said. “This is wrong on so many levels to change a plan after public comment.”

Tuesday's meeting lasted about 3½ hours.

West York Area school board on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. Top row, left to right: Douglas Hoover, Donald Carl, Todd Gettys, Lynn Kohler. Bottom row, left to right: Courtney Dennis, Jeanne Herman, Suzanne Smith, Brandy Shope.

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Board member Jeanne Herman then posed amending the plan a second time to do the A/B only for high school students.

These suggestions appeared to cause confusion among board members and prompted the district's solicitor to recommend they vote "yes" or "no" for the original motion.

Board member Donald Carl said these considerations were not a surprise and had been options in earlier community surveys, but Kohler argued that the public did not know the final plan that came up for a vote Tuesday.

A motion to amend Davies' four-day hybrid passed 6-3, with Margetas, Kohler and Gettys voting no. A subsequent motion to approve the plan, as amended, passed 5-3.

Margetas left early because he did not realize another vote was needed, he said, and board member Brandy Shope voted "no" because, among other things, she took issue with the middle school configuration.

"Somebody on this board has got to be the one to explain that to the community, how this went down," Kohler said, noting it is not Davies' responsibility.