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Data: Vast majority of York County students headed to physical classrooms

Most families chose in-person, brick-and-mortar learning and strongly preferred a full five-day schedule over hybrid models, according to recent data from school districts throughout York County.

The York Dispatch sought information from all 14 public school districts in the county offering some form of in-person instruction — whether five-day or hybrid — and collected data from 11 about the number of parents sending their children back to classrooms amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the seven districts returning students in-person and full time, three had more than 70% of parents choosing that option over wholly remote or hybrid options. The other four had between 59% and 69% choosing the traditional model.

"We want our children back in our classrooms — and they need to be back in our classrooms," said West York Area Superintendent Todd Davies at a recent meeting.

More:After first COVID-19 cases, school officials say opening was the right move

The data was the most recent reported at board meetings, or provided by administrators, over the final few weeks of August, and in some cases did not represent the entire student body — as most, but not all, families had responded to intention surveys.

Even in districts at the lower end of the range, at least 70% of parents chose either full-time traditional instruction or a hybrid model, which includes classes online and in physical classrooms, for their children. 

For example, Dover Area reported 66.5% of parents opted for in-person and 15% chose hybrid, totaling 81.5% of respondents. South Eastern had 59% who chose in-person and 17% who chose hybrid, totaling 76%.

Siblings Hannah Hafler, a freshman, and senior Kaleb McGinnis walk to school during the first day of classes at Central York High School Friday, August, 28, 2020. The Central School District opted for in-person attendance. Bill Kalina photo

Hundreds — or in the case of Dallastown Area, thousands — of residents have flocked to recent virtual board meetings, with a majority arguing in favor of in-person learning.

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

The benefit of face-to-face instruction for elementary school students to build relationships and ensure growth at critical developmental stages, as well as social interaction and mental wellness for all students, has not been overlooked.

Northeastern and Spring Grove — two districts with 70% or more families choosing full-time in-person classes, had some of the most outspoken residents in support of that model.

More:Spring Grove school board OKs mask mandate after row

Districts offering hybrid-only models for some or all of their students this year also had 75% or more students choosing that route over remote learning.

Dallastown Area and Central York, whose communities also showed a lot of support for in-person learning, had some of the highest percentages of students opting out of the classroom. But between 66% and 69% of parents said their children would be returning to classrooms full time. 

Despite the lean toward in-person classes, however, it’s notable how many students have chosen remote or cyber learning options, as it’s dramatically higher than in years past.

Between 20% and 30% of students are choosing remote options in most districts.

At Central York, 1,087 high school students chose the five-day, in-person option, but 503 students are tapping the district's remote options instead.

Dover had one of the lowest percentages for remote learners at 18.5%, but as of  Aug. 18, when that data was presented, only 81% of families had responded.

Some districts have both cyber programs, which sometimes use outside curriculum and feature mostly independent work, and district-run remote platforms with district curriculum and teachers, as well as some synchronous, or live, lessons.

Cyber options were generally less popular, except for Southern's — which had 25.5%, or 728 of its students, as of Aug. 20.

Similarly, West York and Northern York County officials recently called attention to rising enrollment in their cyber options, noting they might eventually have to accommodate more staff.

Neither had available data for in-person learning in time for this article — but West York officials noted there are more than 600 students enrolled in its cyber program. 

Red Lion Area and South Eastern officials had some late switches of students from brick and mortar to a remote option, but those could be short-lived.

South Eastern Superintendent Nathan Van Deusen noted that when the masking update was shared Aug. 18, a number of families switched to hybrid or virtual, but since then a number also moved back to brick and mortar.

Five schools offered a breakdown for elementary, middle and high school.

That data showed elementary and high schools tend to have the highest percentage of students choosing brick and mortar — though that was not true in all cases.

Hanover Public reported most of its students who opted out of the classroom were elementary-age.

Red Lion officials said the more than 30 elementary students who had recently switched to remote learning would likely return to school once safe.

Anecdotally, residents at recent board meetings have pleaded for high school seniors to be able to attend in person for their last year, and officials have noted the challenge of complex schedules for high school students.

At least one district, South Western, has already shuttered for a week following confirmed cases of the coronavirus.