School District of Lancaster superintendent Dr. Damaris Rau speaks to Leadership Lancaster in the library of J.P. McCaskey High School in this file photo from Friday, March 6, 2020.

After months of virtual instruction, School District of Lancaster students will return to the classroom on Jan. 25.

On Tuesday, the school board approved a plan that allows students to choose from three options:

1. Attend class in-person for five days a week for a full day.

2. Learn virtually from home via Zoom along with students who choose in-person instruction.

3. Enroll in the district’s virtual school, Cyber Pathways Academy.

The board split the plan into three separate votes for elementary, middle and high school.

See School District of Lancaster START plan

Board member David Parry opposed allowing high school students to return to the classroom, citing fears of an increase in COVID-19 infections.

“Right now, we have 1,400 kids failing at least one course,” district Superintendent Damaris Rau said in response to Perry’s concern. “We have over 1,000 kids failing two courses, and 506 failing three courses.

“This is its own pandemic,” Rau said. “You talk about inequity. This is a pandemic of student failure that we cannot let go another day.”

The district’s plan calls for phasing students back to school, with elementary school students and those in grades six, eight, nine and 12 attending full time beginning Jan. 25. Students in grades seven, 10 and 11 will return on Feb. 8.

Vulnerable populations will attend five days a week, and pre-K students will return with an a.m. and p.m. schedule. If classes grow too large, the district will assign students to cohorts on Monday/Tuesday and Thursday/Friday to attend school for on-site instruction.

This move will mark the first time the district’s secondary students have attended school in classroom buildings since the 2019-2020 school year. In late fall, the district began a staggered process of returning elementary students, but most have not been in a classroom more than 10 days due to holiday breaks, said Adam Aurand, district spokesperson. With the exception of Octorara, which serves both Lancaster and Chester counties, Lancaster was the only county district that opened virtually this school year.

“Not sending us back does not help at all,” said Iyana Deshields, student representative to the board from McCaskey High School, agreeing that being back in school was good for students’ academic and mental health.

About 35 people — a mix of parents and teachers — spoke at Tuesday’s committee meeting, with most of them supporting resuming in-person instruction.

“Virtual learning has been a disaster for our family,” said Diana Cruceru, who has a child who attends Lafayette Elementary School.

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