SDL - McCaskey

A view of McCaskey High School, in the School District of Lancaster.

The School District of Lancaster will survey parents this week on three different learning environments they may select for their children beginning Jan. 25.

This move comes after Superintendent Damaris Rau on Tuesday night unveiled plans to make Jan. 25 the date the district will welcome students to return to class if they wish. Most of the district’s 11,000 students haven’t experienced that since March.

However, board members who will vote next week did not give Rau unofficial verbal approval for the proposal, which also calls for in-class learning five days each week and covers the entire educational day, all while social distancing 6 feet at all times.

In addition, board members may consider alternate back-to-school scenarios that offer half-day instruction or have some grades return earlier than others. The main goal, Rau said, is to encourage as many students as possible to return to classrooms.

“This plan is designed to provide choice for our families,” Rau said. “We recognize that many of our parents and students are calling for on-site instruction, so this plan provides that opportunity. We believe data show that our students and staff will be safe in our buildings because of our aggressive mitigation efforts.”

The first choice calls for enrolling students in Cyber Pathways Academy, the district’s virtual school. Classes and teachers on that platform use a learning curriculum different from that taught in classrooms.

The second choice offers instruction in the classroom — a full day, five days a week.

The third option allows students to virtually be part of the classroom through Zoom. For instance, a fourth-grade teacher might have 16 students sitting in desks and nine students attending through Zoom.

Choices two and three use the same teachers and curriculum, unlike the first option, which is a completely separate virtual school.

The last two options offer flexibility. A student attending in person, for example, might switch to Zoom lessons for a week and then come back to the classroom. In rare instances, the district may ask some students in a classroom to learn from home if space gets too crowded, spokesman Adam Aurand said. The district promises to practice social distancing, he added.

That may not be enough for The Lancaster Education Association, according to Jason Molloy, the association’s president and a Price Elementary School teacher.

“What is non-negotiable for us is to maintain health and safety to students and staff,” Molloy wrote in an email. “Now that this plan is public, we will have discussions with our membership and provide feedback to the board.”

One board member also expressed concern over whether the district can safely handle so many students in buildings.

“The only thing that concerns me is a giant spread of a mutant virus,” board President Edie Gallagher said, noting that she “is hopeful” about recently declining coronavirus case numbers.

Another board member, Ramon Escudero, said Rau’s plan is needed. “These options are reasonable,” Escudero said. “Kids are failing.”

The next virtual school board meeting, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, will allow public comments before the board votes. Register online at the district’s website,

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