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Central teachers union: Reopening doomed to fail

Central York's in-person school reopening model is unsafe and likely to fail, said the president of the district's teachers union.

Central's students are scheduled to return to classrooms Friday. Meanwhile, the county has classified York County's COVID-19 transmission rate as "moderate," and state officials have urged local school districts to consider hybrid or wholly remote models. 

"Overall, we all really yearn for normalcy. We want to be in the classroom. We want to be with our kids," union President Laura Stine said Monday. 

Central York students, from left, Shannon Salandy, 17, Adam Rilatt, 16, Mikella Wisler, 17, and Renee Rambler, 17, assemble prosthetic hands made with a 3-D printer at Central York High School in Springettsbury Township, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

But if coming back is not done carefully, she said, the district's reopening, following statewide closures in March, won't be successful.

Superintendent Michael Snell recently shared the union's concerns, citing  the same data on York County's moderate transmission status. 

That's when he tried and failed to sway the school board to ditch its in-person reopening plan for a fully remote one. His proposal failed by a 7-2 vote.

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

More:Where they stand now: York County school reopening plans 2020

Members Joseph Gothie and Michael Wagner were in favor of Snell's plan, arguing another closure was inevitable. 

And the union — the Central York Education Association —  agreed, with the big sticking point being that 6-foot social distancing cannot be maintained in many classrooms.

Middle school class sizes average about 20 students at Central.

At the high school level, English classes range from seven to 22 students, and math classes from eight to 24 students.

Classes in the lower ranges are fine, Stine said, but the high-end numbers are troubling.

Nearly every teacher who applied to work remotely at the secondary level was denied, including some who are high-risk, Stine said.

High school Principal Ryan Caufman on Aug. 17 said the administration had tried to accommodate some teachers to be fully remote, but some students are locked in to their schedules for all four years to be on track for graduation.

Gov. Tom Wolf, right, speaks with Central York Principal Ryan Caufman, left, and Central York School District Superintendent Michael Snell, before his Schools That Teach Tour Monday, Dec. 19, 2016, at Central York High School in Springettsbury Township. Amanda J. Cain photo

"It was basically impossible to do," he said.

District spokesperson Julie Randall Romig on Monday said district officials are working on the social distancing issues and have discussed its measures publicly. Some classes might have desks more than 6 feet apart, and some might have less, she said.

More:Dallastown Area board rebuffs superintendent's recommendation against in-person classes

"We understand that there is trepidation felt as we approach a new normal for what our in-school instruction will look like, but we continue to discuss any concerns with our faculty and staff and to work together to address these as they arise," she said in an email.

Snell has said in order to have 6-foot distancing in classrooms, there would need to be only eight to 12 students in each class, which would not be feasible without breaking students into cohorts that only attend certain days.

"If we are required to maintain 6 feet distancing, we’re done," he said in June.

More:Where they stand now: York County school reopening plans 2020

About 60% to 70% of students chose in-person learning for each school building, which puts classes close to typical sizes, maybe two to three fewer, Stine said.

And while 6-foot distancing is not a mandate, Stine said it's a guideline that should be followed, as the state has the most informed recommendations for decisions on safety.

Central is not the only district struggling to abide by these recommendations. Northeastern also noted dozens of its classes did not meet the 6-foot guideline, but its board still voted this past week for an in-person return.

Stine acknowledged concerns that there would not be enough staffing to remain open, especially with a shortage of substitutes, if teachers resign or get sick — which again raises issues of consistency for students.

"If we don’t do this in a way that’s safe, we’re not going to be able to stay here," she said.