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York City school board opts for online-only classes through October

Andrea Berry, superintendent of the York City School District

York City’s school board on Wednesday unanimously approved an all-virtual model for the first nine weeks of school in response to recent guidance from the state.

The district joins just one other in York County so far that chose to start the year online. Dallastown Area is considering such a move at its board meeting Thursday. 

West Shore made that call back in July, and as the state released recommendations for districts with moderate spread of the coronavirus — such as more than 10 cases per 100,000 people in a week — more and more districts are considering following suit.

More:West Shore schools to reopen wholly online, transition later

More:Dallastown superintendent pushes to move to all virtual learning, cancel fall sports

William Penn Senior High School, or York High, in York City, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Northeastern and Central York nearly switched to fully online plans Monday but ultimately stuck with their in-person and hybrid options.

“Online learning is not easy … because it requires a steadfast amount of work ethic that is very difficult, specifically for younger learners,” said York City Superintendent Andrea Berry at an Aug. 10 meeting.

It can even be twice the amount of work as in-person learning, she added.

Berry said administrators and staff know they have an uphill battle but the decision was made for safety. 

"You know from our first go-round that virtual education is not for the faint at heart and it does take a toll on us socially and emotionally as adults as well as kids," she said. "So we want to make sure we’re better addressing those needs this go-round."

More:Central, Northeastern wrangle with reopening, mandates days before doors open

Students will have two options when they return to school Aug. 31:

They will be automatically enrolled in the district’s regular virtual option — which will include four live lessons during 5½ hours of instruction from district teachers, who will teach from building classrooms each day.

Families who cannot log on at specific times can instead choose to enroll in the district’s cyber academy, which would have independent work for students with support from teachers and parents.

Wednesdays will be used as a small group support day for all students, with options of receiving therapy, interventions, and meeting with school counselors and social workers.

Appointments with a full array of those services will be available Wednesday from 8 a.m. to noon or 3 to 7 p.m., but for general questions and tech support, parents can make appointments at any time throughout the week, officials said.

Students with complex needs such as English language or special education learners will be able to schedule in-person learning four days a week.

The York City administration made the recommendation for online learning in response to the state's guidance and a parent survey last week that showed a majority of parents intended to enroll students in the district’s cyber academy.

More:Cyber charters boom as York County schools try to compete

Of 4,573 who responded — or about 50% of the district’s population — 67.3% said they planned to enroll in cyber classes, while 32.7% planned to opt for in-person learning.

The district also had two consecutive weeks in the moderate coronavirus spread category as of Aug. 10. 

Board members were supportive of the plan but had questions about ensuring academic rigor, technology accessibility and adequate access to mental health resources.

Berry said each student would have a district-provided device by September, and the district is working with the community to get citywide internet access.

Board member Michael Breeland had concerns about hands-on learners, saying teachers "need to find a way to engage those students in a way that meets their learning style."

Eighth-grader Navia Chambers, who aspires to be an ICU Charge Nurse, is interviewed by York City School Director Michael Breeland during a mock job interview at Hannah Penn K-8 School in York City, Thursday, May 23, 2019. The day is a culmination of efforts to train and guide students through the process of preparing a portfolio to market themselves for jobs, as well as coaching them through the interview process. Dawn J. Sagert photo

For that, Berry said there would be in-person tutoring and other services available.

After the first marking period, which ends Oct. 30, the district would reevaluate to see if transitioning to in-person learning would be safe.

The first week of school for students will be a transition week to get them acclimated to the technology and schedule, and will begin Aug. 31.