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West Shore frames out students' return to classrooms

A bottle of hand sanitizer sits on a cart as Des Moines Public Schools custodian Tracy Harris cleans a chair in a classroom at Brubaker Elementary School, Wednesday, July 8, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. As the Trump administration pushes full steam ahead to force schools to resume in-person education, public health experts warn that a one-size-fits-all reopening could drive infection and death rates even higher. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

West Shore School District will implement a hybrid model for its students in Phase 2 of its reopening plan.

The district began the school year Aug. 25 with online-only classes.

Beginning Oct. 13, students will have two options: remain in distance learning or return to classes part time.

In the hybrid option, grades K-5 would return to classrooms four days a week and grades 6-12 would attend traditional classes two days a week. Online classes would fill out the remainder of the weekly schedule. 

"I agree with the plan. I think parents need to be provided options that will address their comfort levels with their students’ education," said board member Sheri Moyer at a Thursday meeting.

As of 7:50 p.m. Thursday, at least 1,000 people were attending the district's school board virtual meeting. The dozens who spoke during a public comment period largely split between in-person and distance learning options.

Some said their children have struggled with online learning because there are too many distractions and the format doesn't provide enough motivation. Some parents noted that having to stay home with their child did not allow them to work.

But others said that, despite some issues, they were not comfortable sending their children back to school and urged the district to keep distance learning.

All students will enter into Phase 2 virtually or in person on Oct. 13.

A majority of board members gave unofficial approval of the plan on Thursday, but since the overall plan to do a phased reopening was not altered, a vote was not necessary, said Superintendent Todd Stoltz.

In July, West Shore was the first district in York County to approve an online-only start to the year, with tentative plans of a phased in-person reopening if deemed safe.

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

In the original plan, several grades would transition to in-person learning by Sept. 21, with more phased in throughout October. 

The new plan differs significantly from the original Phase 2.

The reasoning for the changes was based upon recent discussion with physicians, the number of COVID-19 cases in the two counties West Shore serves — York and Cumberland — and an assessment of the feasibility of implementing safety measures in the district.

Though case numbers were much higher in York in recent weeks, they've dipped and spiked in both counties over the past month, and the benefits of bringing students back outweighed those risks, Stoltz said.

"We’ve kind of seen the spectrum," he said of the case counts. "Not enough where I would say there’s a pattern that’s clear and outlined and defined."

If the district were to bring back entire grades at once, as the original plan proposed, class sizes would be too large and it would not be possible to maintain 3 to 6 feet of social distancing, he said.

That's why he chose a hybrid model, which would allow younger K-5 learners to get needed face-to-face instruction and allow grades 6-12 to space out on an A/B schedule. 

To give officials enough time to properly plan the new schedules, administration had to push back the start date to Oct. 13.