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Conestoga Valley School District hired six teachers to help handle the surge in students planning to attend the district’s virtual academy due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The additional teachers, which will cost the district $453,715, are intended to help keep class sizes as small as possible at the district’s four elementary school buildings.

The school board approved the hires with one-year contracts Monday following a rally an hour before the meeting by teachers demanding changes to the district’s reopening plan.

“We need to hire new teachers,” said board member Dana Mead. “We saved for a rainy day and this is a rainy day.”

Currently, 1,787 of the district’s elementary students have elected to return to school full time, in person, five days a week. Another 301 have chosen the K-12 virtual platform.

District staff is assigned to each virtual academy student to provide individual learning and support. Typically, the district has 40 students opt for virtual academy at the elementary level.

In addition to hiring extra teachers, the district is also looking at $532,000 for instructional materials for the additional virtual academy students.

With the 301 students opting for the virtual academy, in-person attendance at the district’s elementary schools will be reduced by 14.4%, an average of almost three students per class. Had the board not approved hiring the additional teachers, one classroom in each building would have increased four to six students; the district would still have needed four one-year teachers at a cost of $308,972.

The board chose not to consider adding a morning-afternoon hybrid overlay model or a real-time virtual instruction option at the elementary level. The administration determined neither concept would significantly reduce the number of students in the buildings.

Conestoga Valley plans to offer in-person instructions as its primary instructional model despite guidance issued Aug. 10 by the state that recommends no in-person instruction unless the level of community transmission in a county is classified as “low.” Lancaster County’s transmission rate is currently ranked as “moderate.”

Classes at Conestoga Valley begin Monday, with full-time, in-person instruction available at all grade levels. Middle school and high school students will also have a real-time virtual option, with high school students also able to blend the real-time virtual or virtual academy programs with in-person instruction.

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