When: School District of Lancaster board meeting, Sept. 29.
What happened: Speaking passionately about her concern for the education of the district’s children, Superintendent Damaris Rau pleaded with the school board not to micromanage her plan to phase students to a blended model of instruction.
Quotable: “I am asking you to trust me,” Rau said.
The vote: The board approved Rau’s request, 8-1, after opening up public comments and discussion. Member Salina Almanzar dissented after stating she did not want the district to rush, and she would like more clarity. The motion was a late addition to the agenda.
Blended learning explained: The board first approved a health indicator, or metric, of COVID-19 data to determine if it was safe to start blended instruction. A blended model means half of the district’s 10,600 population attends in-person instruction on Mondays and Tuesdays, while the other half attends on Thursdays and Fridays. When not in school, students will work independently. The health metric states it is safe to phase students’ return with 36 to 60 weekly cases per 100,000 residents, which is where Lancaster County has been hovering since late May.
Alternative: School District of Lancaster continues to offer the district-run Cyber Pathways Academy, a full-time virtual program for kindergarten through 12th grade that is not taught by district teachers.
Public comment: Almost two-thirds of remarks from teachers and parents backed returning to in-person instruction. Brynne McHugh spoke in person at the meeting in support of resuming face-to-face learning. “I talked to a few students in our district today, and I asked them how their school day went,” McHugh said. “Their response to me was that they had to go to a relative’s house for child care and that relative did not have internet access, so they couldn’t do school today. It just really hurt my heart because there are so many kids in our district who are in this situation.”
Next: Rau wants prekindergarten students to resume in-person/blended instruction come Oct. 12 and phase in other grades in the following weeks. Rau said moving slowly would hurt students. “I just don’t think our children have that time,” she said, adding, “As long as we were in that moderate level (of infection rate), our kids just can’t wait that long.”
Teachers: Joseph Torres, the vice president of the Lancaster Education Association, which represents about 900 instructors, said the union was unaware of the superintendent’s plan to speed the process. He asked the district to give prekindergarten teachers until Oct. 19, so they had more time. The union has been bargaining working conditions with the district.
What’s next: The board will meet at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 6, with limited seating in the media center of the McCaskey East High School building, 1051 Lehigh Ave., Lancaster. The public can still watch it livestream and submit comments on the district website.