When: Elizabethtown Area School District board meeting via Zoom, Dec. 15.
What happened: In a unanimous vote, board members reaffirmed the original timeline for having third and sixth graders attend school in different buildings. Instead of being part of the district’s four elementary schools, third grade will be integrated into Bear Creek School starting in the 2021-22 school year. And sixth grade, now at Bear Creek, will move to the Elizabethtown Area Middle School, which is being prepared now for their arrival.
Background: The plan was approved in March 2019 at the same time as renovations to the lower level of the middle school. The new vote was in response to a request made by several parents at recent meetings to delay the transition for one year, citing concerns that children have experienced too much upheaval this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Parents also submitted to the board a petition with 225 signatures.
Parents speak: Before the vote, two mothers — Sarah Zahn and Kristy Moore — expressed opposition to the prospect of the two grades being moved for the upcoming school year. Zahn said she had hoped to hear the pros and cons for both moving forward as planned and delaying the transition presented at a Dec. 1 workshop meeting, but was disappointed that the option to delay was not addressed and that only one board member asked a question regarding the parent concerns. Also, no attention was given to the parent petition. Moore, the parent of a second-grader at Mill Road Elementary School, said there had not been enough discussion and information on the mental health and social-emotional concerns that parents of second graders have.
Quotable: "So if you vote to move forward with this transition without publicly considering pressing pause on this move for a year, then you will effectively and deliberately dismiss the voices of over 225 of your constituents and you will uproot 500-plus children and teachers after a very tumultuous year when there has been no specific necessity, financial or otherwise, shown to the public why it is imperative that you move next year," Zahn stated.
Administrator speaks: Before the vote, Assistant Superintendent Daniel Serfass spoke on behalf of the administration to recommend reaffirming the original plan. Serfass said that various factors were reviewed, including parent comments, past and present initiatives, and potential challenges. He also acknowledged the issues created by COVID-19.
Board members speak: M. Caroline Lalvani, a member of the board, thanked the parents for their input. But she believes the pros and cons of moving forward were addressed, noting that the Bear Creek principal and the administration had been clear that the move wouldn’t be easy. She also thinks it best that students make one transition over the next three years instead of two. Erin Grosh, another board member, said she wrestled with the decision nearly two years ago to approve the grade reconfiguration, saying that as a parent, she didn't love the idea of moving classes from buildings that have served students well. But, she said, board members must make decisions in the best interest of the entire district.