Note: This story was edited at 8 a.m., Friday, Aug. 14, to correct the date when students will return to classes
LEWISBURG — Students in the Lewisburg School District will not return to classes before Sept. 9 after school directors delayed the start date following a spirited debate Thursday night.
The board voted 8-1 with only board member Lisa Clark voting no.
Nothing has changed with the instructional model, said board President Jordan Fetzer. "Instruction will be in person, five days a week," with early dismissal on Wednesday, to allow for more extensive sanitizing and cleaning.
Students will start on a staggered schedule, with Pre-K, kindergarten and grades four, six and nine starting Sept. 9. Students in grades 1-3, 5, 7-8 and 10-12 will return on Sept. 10.
On Sept. 11, all students will report for school as scheduled.
The recommendation was made by District Superintendent Jennifer Polinchock, who had to make this quick and unexpected pivot after the state, with it's new rating system, said Union County was the only county in the state with a "substantial" risk of transmission. The state recommends that schools in the county — Lewisburg and Mifflinburg — start with online-only classes until its rate of cases is reduced.
Polinchock noted that much of what will happen over the next few weeks leading up to the reopening will depend on weekly data on COVID 19 positives, released every Monday. "I want to see what the Aug. 17 data shows," she said.
Paula Reber, Lewisburg High School principal, said the sudden change in status brought on by the "substantial" designation, "made all of us feel we are kind of in a hostage situation. But when we got this news, we had to quickly decide what to do. And the delay will allow our staff, our teaching staff, more time to prepare."
Fetzer said he had concerns with experts "who are not here, making evaluations. Someone who is not here. Someone who is not looking at our numbers." That said, he noted that he would reluctantly vote yes on the recommendation made by Polinchock.
Board vice president Cory Heath said he "felt terrible for both students and their parents who were preparing to go to school next week." But he also said he would go along with the recommendation as made by Polinchock.
Meanwhile, Clark said she was a proponent of keeping to the schedule as passed by the board at their July meeting — meaning an Aug. 20 start. "She noted that the positives were mostly at institutions, and that while people who worked there come and go, the county was handling the pandemic smartly.
As for instruction, no one argued that an in-person component was to be preferred.
There was some discussion about remote learning, and a point was made that not all students had access to broadband and might have difficulty keeping up with their studies.