After weeks of waiting, parents in the Harrisburg School District now have an idea of what the 2020-21 school year will bring.
On Thursday, Acting Superintendent Chris Celmer announced the plan that consists of two options for district families—one hybrid model and one virtual.
“This has been a very difficult process in determining what is the best way to begin the 2021 school year,” he said.
The first option is the “Pathway to Classroom Instruction.” Within this option, there are three phases that ultimately lead to students returning to brick-and-mortar schools.
Celmer said that this option will begin as completely online learning and only transition out of that phase when the spread of the virus slows. Once the district believes it is safe to move forward, they will implement a hybrid model with students attending in-person classes two days a week and virtual classes the remaining three days. He explained that there will be two groups of students, one that completes in-person classes Monday and Tuesday, another that goes in Thursday and Friday.
The last phase, a full return to classroom instruction, would only take place if local testing is more widely available and quicker, positive cases are decreased and sustained below the state benchmark of 5%, and treatments/vaccinations are available.
If parents and students are not comfortable with the idea of going back to brick-and-mortar schools in the near future, they can choose the second option—the “Pathway to 100% Online Virtual Instruction.”
“If you’re a parent and you’re not interested in sending your children back to brick-and-mortar until a treatment and/or vaccine is available, then I would strongly consider the Harrisburg Virtual Learning Academy,” Celmer said.
This option, introduced in May, is the district’s alternative to cyber charter schools.
According to Celmer, a majority of families in the district are not ready to send their students back to the classroom. Based on two surveys seeking parent feedback, the data showed that only 18% were comfortable sending their student back to school in the fall. In addition, around 40% said they are looking for a cyber option.
If the cyber option is chosen, Celmer said students must enroll for at least a semester, through January 2021.
A Chromebook or laptop will be provided to each student in the district, Celmer said.
When in-person instruction begins in the district, there will be a new bell schedule to reduce hallway congestion and provide more flexibility for transportation services. High school students will begin at 7:30 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m. Middle-schoolers will go from 8:10 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. and elementary students will attend from 8:50 a.m. to 3:50 p.m.
In addition, students must wear masks and the building will be thoroughly cleaned at least twice a week.
The first day of school will be Aug. 31.
Celmer said that the district will send out a third survey to parents next week, when they can select either the hybrid model or the cyber school option for the upcoming academic year.
For parents like Jacquelynne Smith, neither of the provided options seem feasible.
“I think this is absolutely crazy,” she said. “They have backed people like me into a corner.”
Smith is a single mother of three children under the age of nine and works at a dental office. Because she isn’t from the Harrisburg area originally, she doesn’t have family or friends to help her with childcare.
“These plans right now will force me to lose my job,” she said. “Why can’t they make accommodations for parents that don’t have any other options?”
Smith is especially concerned about leaving her son who takes daily medication home alone.
According to Celmer, the district will continue to stay up to date on the pandemic and make changes to the plan as necessary.
“We are going to continue to monitor the situation in the city of Harrisburg surrounding the impact of COVID,” Celmer said. “None of us have had to deal with this situation before. It’s complex; it’s unnerving; it’s concerning. But, at the end of the day, health and safety must be the priority.”
For more information about the Harrisburg School District’s 2020-2021 school year plan, visit their website.