LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. — It's a national question, and the answer varies on the school district: Will students physically return to school this fall?
For Ephrata Area School District, it's not a matter of if but how will students learn this fall. Superintendent Brian Troop says not everyone will have to walk through school doors.
"Once we the school year up and running, there may be situations that cause one child to be at home and quarantine," explained Dr. Troop. "There may be a whole class that needs to go home and quarantine. We can't stop learning in those situations."
Dr. Troop spoke with FOX43 about the district's current plan, which a group of administrators, teachers, and others drafted, and the school board approved. Under the plan, he says, the students who physically return to class and the ones who opt to stay home will receive comparable education.
"We have our cyber program which mirrors any cyber, charter that's out there," explained Dr. Troop. "It's the same curriculum and same opportunities for those parents that say, 'you know what? I know that the district's doing a great job of trying to figure this out, but I just want another option just for this year.'"
The school district had parents take a survey. According to Dr. Troop, approximately 20 percent plan to have their children utilize one of its online options. The district has iPads for elementary kids and a laptop for every secondary student.
What will in-person instruction look like though? Will desks be spaced 6 feet apart?
"We know already we will have reduced numbers in our classrooms," explained Dr. Troop. "If 6 feet distancing is still the requirement... there was talk of a 3-ft level by some departments of health in in our state, but if the 6-foot is still in existence, we'll have to be creative about creating opportunities where kids can maintain that 6-ft distance in one part of the room while in another part maybe having mass on an engaging in a smaller group learning environment."
As for all the lockers? Dr. Troop says they will not be assigned. They will be used only for special circumstances.
When it comes to lunch, Dr. Troop says the district is fortunate to have enough space to add cafeteria tables into part of the gymnasiums.
"We believe we will be able to achieve enough social distance to have students eat safely in cafeteria and gym," he said.
What the district's plan does not yet include? How to respond to a potential COVID-19 case or outbreak.
"We don't have that guidance yet from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and not having a local department of health in Lancaster County, we really don't have that expertise sharing with us how we should respond in those cases, but those are on the on the list of questions that we still have to answer it," explained Dr. Troop.
There is one constant, according to Dr. Troop, the situation is constantly changing. He says superintendents across the state need to be flexible.
"The challenge of sports is a challenge that we're all facing, the challenge of band and musicals is a challenge we're all facing," explained Dr. Troop. "We all serve lunch. We all have schedules that we need to manipulate so that we can maintain hallways that aren't overcrowded. There is more alike than different, but we have to know our contexts and make sure our plans fit that."
Dr. Troop stressed the plan could change. He says he is waiting on the Pennsylvania Department of Health to release more guidelines for schools. The department is expected to release that information this week.