During a nearly five-hour committee meeting Tuesday, the Lancaster school board approved a district reopening plan that calls for students to attend school part-time and learn the rest of the time at home.
Board member Salina Almanzar was the only member who voted no on the plan - citing concerns with how the district will handle another novel coronavirus wave.
Unlike most of the area's school districts, the School District of Lancaster will open as if the county was still in the yellow phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to provide more safety measures for students, said Superintendent Damaris Rau.
Rau said this plan ensures students' wellbeing and gets students back into learning mode and has procedures in place if students and staff get sick. "Our students don't learn as well online," she said.
Nearly 100 people -- including parents and staff -- submitted comments to the virtual school board meeting. Parent Steve Farina wrote that the district performed well during the transition to online learning in the spring, but he did not want his daughter to receive in-person instruction.
"I support online learning as a potential way to ensure the continued safety of students, faculty, and the SDoL community," he wrote. "I would rather homeschool my rising first grader than have her possibly exposed to COVID in a school setting."
The first day of school is Aug. 24 for grades Pre-K-6, and 9. On Monday, Aug. 31, grades 7-8 and 10-12 return. On Aug. 24, self-contained special education classes and students attending specialized programs such as DASH, Buehrle or Newcomers will return for four full days of instruction weekly.
Among the details every student should expect: No school on Wednesday as that day is for teacher planning and meetings. Parents should do temperature checks each morning. Desks will sit at least three feet apart as space allows. All students and staff will wear either a mask or a face shield, and every room will have hand sanitizer. Custodians will clean surfaces with a high-powered hydrogen peroxide cleaner that kills the virus and is safer for children.
After a lengthy deliberation among members, Board President Edith Gallagher said the district worked diligently on this plan and included dozens of parents, teachers, support staff and members of the medical community.
"At some point, we need to trust the experts," she said, adding, "We are going to stick out like a sore thumb if don't send our kids to school at all," referring to the other school districts returning their students to the buildings.
Moving forward, the district is hosting virtual town hall meetings to convey details of the plan to the public at 6 p.m., July 16, July 30, and Aug. 6.
The board will meet at 6:30 p.m. July 21 to discuss school resource officers, school renaming, and more details of the back-to-school plan. The public can watch it livestream on the district website.