Just days after learning four students in the district have tested positive for COVID-19, the Eastern York school board voted Oct. 15 to eliminate the “blended” option for students in its high school and return to full-time, in-person classes.
The 9-0 vote came after discussion that centered not on whether students should return to school five days a week, but how quickly it could be accomplished. The transition will take place at the start of the second marking period on Nov. 10 for high school students.
Students in grades six through 12 have been operating under a blended plan that saw them spend two days in a classroom while working remotely the other three days. That option will also be eliminated for middle school students. Those students will return full time Dec. 1, following the Thanksgiving break, though that date could be moved up if the administration is able to complete plans for the transition sooner.
Middle school students will continue to have the option of full-time remote instruction created, delivered and monitored by district teachers. Students in all grades will also still have the option to take classes through the Eastern York Cyber Academy, which offers online instruction from a third-party vendor with Eastern York staff tracking student engagement.
The decision follows a survey of parents in the district that showed just under 59% of high school parents and 68% of middle school parents wanted their children to return to full-time, in-school classes.
Elementary school students will continue to have the choice of full-time, blended, full-time remote or the cyber academy. Some elementary students may be assigned a different teacher beginning Dec. 1 as the district makes adjustments to balance class sizes to accommodate those opting to return to full-time, in-school learning. The board also authorized the hiring of up to three long-term substitute teachers at the elementary level.
“With some movement we can continue to offer all three options (at the elementary level),” district Superintendent Joseph W. Mancuso III told the board. Mancuso said no elementary students will be asked to move to a different building.
Offering both full-time and blended options in the middle school and high school would be cost-prohibitive due to the need for teachers in grades seven through 12 to have subject level certification. Administrators previously said the additional teachers needed to offer both blended and full-time options for those grades would cost nearly $1 million.
Under state Department of Education guidelines, districts in counties with what is classified as a “moderate” level of community transmission are recommended to use either a blended mode or full-time remote instruction. A moderate level of transmission means the county has either a rolling seven-day average of 10-99 cases per 100,000 residents or a positive test rate of 5-10%.
According to the state’s COVID-19 Dashboard, York County’s incidence rate in the most recent 7-day period (Oct.2-8) stands at 68.9 per 100,000 residents, up from 56.4 the previous week. The county’s positive test rate stands at 4.6%, up from 3.9% the previous week. All three zip codes in the district have positive test rates above 6%.
The district’s four confirmed cases over the past two weeks include one in each of its three elementary schools and one in the high school. No cases have been reported at the middle school to date. In each case the district contacted the state Department of Health for guidance and to assist in contact tracing, Mancuso said after the meeting. None of the schools had to close, but additional students and teachers had to quarantine in two of the cases.
The influx of more students attending full time will have an impact on class sizes, though administrators said they expect to be able to stay within the district’s established guidelines. Maintaining the recommended 6 feet between desks will not be possible in the elementary and middle schools, a report to the board’s operations committee stated.
That report also said the number of students opting to return full time will require modifications to how the district is providing lunch and could also result in buses being more crowded, administrators told the board.