When: Elizabethtown Area school board meeting, March 23.
What happened: Middle school and high school students in the Elizabethtown Area School District will be back at school five days a week starting April 6, after spring recess.
The vote: The board voted 7-2 to make the change. Board member Erin Grosh, who cast one of the no votes, objected to how and when the plan was presented and questioned the wisdom of ending hybrid attendance with the pandemic still posing risks. Also voting no was board member Menno Riggleman, who asked whether more parents would drive their students to school rather than have them ride the bus.
Quotable: “I’m frustrated beyond measure at the inability of both the board and the public to ask questions publicly about this proposal,” Grosh said.
Background: Because of the pandemic, secondary students have been following a hybrid schedule, with two days a week at school and three days a week doing virtual learning since the start of this school year. Meanwhile, elementary students have been attending school in-person full time. Some students, spanning all grade levels, have been learning entirely online through the new EASD Online program, the district-run Lancaster-Lebanon Virtual School or outside cybercharter schools. In November, the Elizabethtown school board had decided to continue the hybrid model for secondary students through the end of the school year. But starting in January, some students from both schools, identified as at-risk of failing classes, have been returning for in-person learning four or five days a week.
Why it matters: “Our students learn best when they’re in our classrooms with our teachers,” middle school Principal Kara Schoessler said. High school Principal Maura Hobson said, “Nothing is better than having the kids in school, face-to-face instruction, building those relationships.” The two principals maintained that with the current COVID-19 mitigation efforts, such as mask wearing and social distancing, returning students to full-time learning can be successful. Dan Forry, director of finance and operations, said no bus has more than 44 riders.
School consolidation planning: The board saw an analysis of elementary school building capacities for kindergarten through second grades. Forry spoke about the potential consolidation of those grades into two elementary schools — East High Street and Bainbridge —with the fate of the other elementary schools, Rheems and Mill Road, to be decided. At the April 13 meeting, the administration will present alignment options for kindergarten through second grades.
Superintendent’s contract: The board unanimously approved a new five-year contract for Michele Balliet, starting July 1 and ending June 30, 2026. Starting July 1, her salary will be $200,168.