Before school even opened for the first day of classes Monday in the Eastern Lancaster County School District, COVID-19 had made its presence known.
A teacher at the district’s middle and high school campus in New Holland notified administration that a family member had tested positive for the virus, forcing the teacher to conduct class remotely while a substitute supervised the students in-person.
“That’s gonna be a rolling, ongoing challenge for everyone,” Elanco Superintendent Bob Hollister said Monday morning as masked students walked by. “And, in that case, the learners have to be flexible as much as the adults.”
Elanco was one of nine school districts on Monday to start classes for the 2020-21 school year, one that administrators and school board members have been preparing for all summer with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging across the country.
All but one — School District of Lancaster — opened with an in-person option. But continuing with that format could depend on how pervasive the virus becomes in schools.
“The biggest concern we have is keeping our adults in play,” Hollister said. “I want to keep our teaching staff teaching. My biggest concern is if too many of them get sick then we’ll have to consider another option.”
Other school districts to reopen Monday were Columbia Borough, Conestoga Valley, Elizabethtown Area, Ephrata Area, Manheim Central, Penn Manor and Solanco. Warwick starts today.
School officials reported minor disturbances throughout the day Monday, mostly technical glitches for remote learners. For as strange of a school year this is expected to be, the first day went relatively smoothly, students and teachers across the county said.
For Emily Gregory, an eighth-grader at Manor Middle School, masks and social distancing were somewhat uncomfortable.
“It was kind of upsetting when you think about it, because you want to go up and high five and hug your friends,” she said, adding that, overall, the first say was “pretty good.”
“It went well,” said Jared Shearer, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at the school. “I think the kids were really receptive to the new rules and procedures. I think it was overwhelming for a lot of them. … But, overall, I think they responded really well on the first day.”
At Penn Manor, one of the school districts that reopened under a blended model, half of students in grades three through 12 attended in-person Monday. The other half learned online.
Students at School District of Lancaster, one of two county school districts to start the school year completely online, experienced a few technical issues, but “nothing major,” district spokesman Adam Aurand said in an email.
Some families struggled logging in to the various online programs needed for online learning. The district posted a YouTube video with sign-in tips Monday morning.
“There’s no way to practice synchronous virtual learning for 11,000-plus students!” Aurand said.
A number of families have formed so-called “pods,” so their children could learn simultaneously online together. One such arrangement goes by the name of Friends Peace Pod and is set up inside a multipurpose room at a Lancaster city church.
Anna Kennedy, 41, of Lancaster Township, helped form the group, which includes her daughter, Mia, who is a first-grade student in the School District of Lancaster, two other first-graders and a kindergartener. All of the students are enrolled in Cyber Pathways, the district’s alternative online program, which has elements of synchronous and asynchronous instruction.
Currently, about 5% of Lancaster students opted for Cyber Pathways rather than the online program taught by teachers employed by the district, according to Aurand.
Students in Friends Peace Pod, who wore masks and adhered to the usual health and safety guidelines, Kennedy said, followed the typical school day schedule on Monday, with breaks to eat and play in between subjects. The parents hired a child care provider to supervise the kids, and parents take turns serving as an assistant.
“Kids just need to know that they’re not alone,” Kennedy said. “They’re working on school with other kids. And having some time to play together outside is really healthy.”
The first day included a lot of tutorials and setup, Kennedy said, but, asked how the day went, overall, she said: “So far, so good.”