When: Conestoga Valley school board meeting, July 27.
What happened: Board members unanimously approved a reopening plan that gives students the option of returning to full time, in-person instruction or attending the district’s virtual academy.
The plan: In-person schooling will resume with increased cleaning and reorganized classrooms. Students and staff will be instructed to screen themselves for symptoms at home every morning. Class schedules will be adjusted to reduce the number of students congregating in hallways. HVAC systems in all buildings will be on occupied mode constantly for increased filtration. Students not wishing to return to in-person classes can enroll in Conestoga Valley Virtual Academy. If Lancaster County returns to the red or yellow phase, all students will be taught virtually.
Masks: Under the plan, face masks are strongly recommended but not mandatory, unless required by state or federal law. Superintendent Dave Zuilkoski said that under Gov. Tom Wolf’s current mask mandate, students would be required to wear masks in school. Face masks will be required on buses regardless of state or federal ordinances. In addition to purchasing masks for teachers, the district purchased face shields for all students and staff.
Teacher comments: Tarah Flick, a biology teacher who is president of the Conestoga Valley Education Association, the district teachers union, said teachers desperately want to return to in-person education, but only if it is safe. Flick asked the board to require students to wear masks and to adopt a hybrid schedule where students would alternate between attending classes virtually and online. Flick said having only half of in-person students on campus at a time would make it easier for teachers to abide by the new safety protocols.
Board response: Board President Todd Shertzer thanked Flick and asked her for a copy of her comments. Before voting on the plan, board member Julia Reed acknowledged differing opinions on the plan but said not reopening schools for in-person instruction would hurt children in abusive situations, English language learners, and children with special needs. “We really cannot abandon our most vulnerable students,” Reed said.
Next steps: Building principals are sending parents an informative video detailing how individual schools will implement the district’s health and safety plan. A survey will be sent to families to determine the number of students opting for in-person instruction, bus transportation and school meals. The district website will have a page of frequently asked questions about the health and safety plan.
First week: All in-person elementary students will begin school Aug. 24. Beginning Aug. 25, middle and high school students will alternate attending school in-person and online until Aug. 28, when all grades will be back on campus.
Public access to meeting: The board met in the auditorium at Gerald G. Huesken Middle School. To avoid exceeding the state’s 25-person limit on indoor gatherings, members of the public who attended watched the meeting from a separate room via livestream. The livestream was also available online, though the district had initially said the meeting would be in-person only. Officials decided to stream the meeting just several hours prior to the advertised start time. Participants watching the livestream at the school were given the opportunity to enter the auditorium and address the board.