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Manheim Township high school students walk to the door after disembarking from their school buses on the first day of school on Tuesday, August 25, 2020.

Manheim Township School District is returning to a hybrid schedule for middle and high school students less than two months after it upped in-person instruction to full-time districtwide.

The news, announced in a letter to families from district Superintendent Robin Felty Friday evening, comes a day after the district announced the death of Manheim Township Middle School counselor Alexandra Chitwood, who died of COVID-19. It also comes as a spike in COVID-19 cases is occurring across the county.

While the district says Chitwood's death did not factor into the decision, many teachers see the death as further evidence that the district should not have abandoned the hybrid schedule in the first place.

"I am saddened it took Alex's death to finally convince MTSD administration to adopt a hybrid model for the Middle School and High School, an action that many teachers have been advocating since the beginning of the school year," Dan Reynolds, a high school social studies teacher and president of the Manheim Township Education Association, said in an email Friday night. "In speaking with my colleagues, they are adamant that Alex's death will only strengthen their resolve to fight for conditions that ensure both quality education for students as well as safety for our community."

Students in grades six through 12 started the school year under the hybrid schedule, which splits students into two groups and assigns either Monday and Tuesday or Wednesday and Thursday as in-person learning days, with the rest of the week's instruction online. The district shifted to full-time, in-person instruction in mid-September, to the chagrin of many teachers and some parents and students who were concerned with the lack of space inside the secondary school buildings.

Now, the district is reversing course — for now — as secondary students return to the hybrid schedule running Wednesday through Nov. 20. Students in kindergarten through sixth grade will resume full-time, in-person instruction.

On Monday and Tuesday of next week only, all middle and high school students, except for Lancaster County Career & Technology Center students, will learn remotely due to “several” COVID-19 cases that require contact tracing, according to Felty's letter. (See the graphic below for more details regarding next week's schedule)

Manheim Township schedule 11/9-11/13

Group A: Students in grades 7-12 with last name A to L. Group B: Students in Grades 7-12 with last name M to Z.

Felty said the decision to return to a hybrid schedule for the secondary level was based on "building staffing levels, percentage of students on quarantine, and the current and relevant CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) data for Lancaster County."

Pennsylvania Department of Health data from last week shows Lancaster County had an incident rate per 100,000 residents of 99.9 and a 5.8% positivity rate. That nearly puts the county in the substantial community transmission category determined by the state. Only remote instruction is recommended in that category.

The district, meanwhile, has reported 34 total COVID-19 cases, according to an online dashboard it released earlier this week. Fourteen have come from the middle school and high school. Nine — five at the middle school and four at the high school — are considered active.

The transition back to hybrid, Felty wrote, “allows us to further reduce the enrollment in our secondary buildings," which have "more frequent transitions and interfaces between staff and students."

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