Students in the Eastern York School District will return to school five days a week when its schools reopen Sept. 8.
Board members voted 8-1 Tuesday to fully reopen schools, rejecting the recommendations of the district’s Health and Safety Team which had endorsed a blended plan calling for in-school and remote learning.
Under the plan put forth by that team — composed of district administrators, a school nurse, the Eastern York County emergency management coordinator, the presidents of both the school board and the teachers union — students would have combined two days each week in class and two days of remote learning. Schedules would alternate with just half of the district’s students attending in person on any given day. Wednesdays would be devoted to a blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning, with buildings closed to allow for extra cleaning and disinfecting.
Administration officials said its recommendation was based upon a desire to reduce class sizes to allow for social distancing. Having desks 6 feet apart would also allow mean students would not have to wear masks while seated at their desks. District Superintendent Joseph W. Mancuso III told the board the recommendation was based in part by the fact that two of the district’s three elementary buildings lack air conditioning.
The blended plan appeared to be the consensus of the school board when it was reviewed by the entire board at a July 14 committee meeting. That apparent consensus changed in the intervening two weeks.
But at Tuesday’s school board meeting, which had limited in-person attendance and was streamed on YouTube, public comment ran 15-to-1 in favor of full reopening over the blended option. Several of the board members indicated most of the feedback they received from their constituents favored the full reopening.
“I’ve changed my mind. I had supported the administration’s recommendation. I always believe and heed the recommendations of the administration because they actually go down through and get the information and supply it so we can make an educated decision,” said board member Richard Zepp. “In this particular case I must not support the recommendation of the administration. The reason is because of the overwhelming response that I have personally received.”
Jason Malone, Todd Lentz, Richard Holtzinger, Mark D. Keller, James Reese, Douglas Bailey Jr. and Darvin Shelley joined Zepp in voting for the full reopening.
Jon Shevelew, who cast the lone no vote, said he felt the board had no good choices, saying the board should take a more cautious approach and reevaluate the decision as more evidence becomes available about how reopening schools impacts the spread of the virus.
“My instincts tell me opening the schools is probably insane,” Shevelew said. “If we try to do a full, five-day reopening, we’re asking for trouble. It is a recipe for disaster.”
The board’s vote sends the Health and Safety Team back top the drawing board to revise the reopening health and safety plan. While many items such as cleaning and sanitizing protocols will remain the same, revisions will be needed to areas such as the bus transportation and how lunch periods will be handled.
“We’re going to provide the safest environment we can based upon the board’s decision,” Mancuso said.
Parents will still have the option of having their child enroll in the Eastern York Cyber Academy. The revised health and safety plan is expected to be acted on at the board’s Aug. 20 meeting.