School closing COVID-19

A school bus leaves Mountville Elementary School at the end of the school day Friday, March 13, 2020. 

As the school year approaches, schools across Lancaster County have began releasing their reopening plans amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Some of the general guidelines each school will be following include wearing masks, frequently sanitizing surfaces and social distancing. 

Here's what local school districts have released in regards to their reopening plans.

Editor's note: School boards continue to update their return to school plans. This list was last updated Aug. 13.


Cocalico has changed course from a 5-day a week in-person plan to one that sends secondary students two days a week. The district just adopted a changed approach at its Aug. 3 school board meeting. 

In July, the school board approved a state-required health and safety plan that calls for the resumption of in-person classes for all grades beginning Aug. 25.

No final decision has been made on staff or student use of masks, though the plan says they will be available and “may be required” in some situations. Under the Wolf administration's current mask mandate, students and employees are required to wear masks in school.

Other precautions include additional sanitizing and seating patterns that space students at least three feet apart and keep them from facing each other.

Click the link below for more information.

Columbia Borough

District schools are scheduled to reopen Aug. 31 for all students and staff. Families also can opt between an online and in-person learning model at any time to accommodate changes in a student’s health or circumstances.

Each school, according to the district’s plan, will ensure all learning spaces, conference rooms, common areas, athletic equipment and personal learning items are thoroughly sanitized or disinfected after use. The plan aims to minimize surface contact in high-traffic areas. For example, water fountains will be replaced with contactless water bottle filling stations.

In accordance with a statewide mandate, students and staff are required to wear masks in hallways, common spaces and classrooms. Floor markers and reorganized learning spaces will help students maintain at least six feet of separation at all times. Any learner identified as vulnerable, or with “complex needs,” can receive special accommodations to guarantee “safety and equitable access to learning,” the document states.

Both parents and staff are expected to conduct independent, at-home COVID-19 symptom checks on mornings when school is in session. If symptomatic, a student or staff member should stay home.

Nurses will screen students, staff, or visitors who display symptoms while inside a school facility. Once identified as symptomatic, students must be sent home with a parent or guardian as soon as possible. The district also will create a set of protocols that designate how sick learners, visitors and staff should be effectively quarantined.

All district cafeterias will operate at less than full capacity, so schools must establish alternate lunch areas and serve meals from kiosks or carts. Physical education and recess activities will be primarily held in outdoor spaces to allow students to social distance. The district also will coordinate with its transportation service providers to adjust bus schedules, limit maximum occupancy and confirm sanitation measures are in place.

Click the link below for more information. 

Conestoga Valley

Board members unanimously approved a reopening plan on July 27 that gives students the option of returning to full time, in-person instruction or attending the district’s virtual academy.

In-person schooling will resume with increased cleaning and reorganized classrooms. Students and staff will be instructed to screen themselves for symptoms at home every morning. Class schedules will be adjusted to reduce the number of students congregating in hallways. HVAC systems in all buildings will be on occupied mode constantly for increased filtration. Students not wishing to return to in-person classes can enroll in Conestoga Valley Virtual Academy. If Lancaster County returns to the red or yellow phase, all students will be taught virtually.

Under the plan, face masks are strongly recommended but not mandatory, unless required by state or federal law. Under the Wolf administration's current mask mandate, students and employees are required to wear masks in school. Face masks will be required on buses regardless of state or federal ordinances. In addition to purchasing masks for teachers, the district purchased face shields for all students and staff.

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According to its plan presented July 23, in the current green phase, students can attend school in person five days per week or choose one of two virtual learning options — either online with Donegal staff and curriculum or with Donegal Virtual Academy provided by Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13.

In the yellow phase, the options are a blended learning option of one day per week in person with four days virtual or one of the virtual learning options. All staff and students will be required to wear face coverings in school and on the bus in accordance with governmental regulations. To the extent possible, classrooms will be arranged to adhere to social distancing guidelines and students will remain in their classrooms with staff moving between classrooms. Families can tailor their choice to each student’s needs.

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The school district stood by its plan for full-time, in-person instruction despite a recent state Department of Health guideline that discouraged such a learning model amid the pandemic.

Jeff Martin, of the Eastern Lancaster County Education Association, requested that the district integrate a hybrid learning model into its health and safety plan for the 2020-21 school year. The board approved a motion to maintain the current plan: full-time, in-person instruction. The vote was 6-3 with board members Gary Buck, Jonathan Dahl and Thomas Wentzel voting no.

The school district will seek to add a gymnasium floor replacement onto its existing contract with eciConstruction for general construction.

Earlier this year, the board approved $8.25 million in contracts to complete HVAC, locker room and other renovations at Garden Spot High School. Out of several prospective bidders, the district awarded a $3.13 million contract to Dillsburg-based eciConstruction for the following projects: replace bleachers in gymnasiums, ceilings, flooring, lockers; remodel corridors to maximize visibility; create storage room; and install 48 private changing rooms and 76 private showers in its locker rooms.

Click the link below for more information. 

Elizabethtown Area

Students in the Elizabethtown Area School District will don masks and return to their classrooms this fall for the first time since the pandemic forced school closures in March. But an online option for learning will be available for students whose parents or guardians choose to not send them back for in-person instruction.

The district’s 37-page health and safety plan requires teachers and staff to wear self-provided face coverings. Meantime, the state Department of Health requires face coverings for students when physical distancing is not possible. The state does provide exceptions for students wearing masks, including medical conditions such as respiratory problems, mental health conditions or other disabilities.

The district is asking parents and guardians to screen their children for symptoms each morning and keep them home if they exhibit any signs of illness. District staff are required to do selfscreenings before coming to work. Temperature screenings will not be done upon entrance to school.

Ephrata Area

Ephrata Area School District has delayed the first day of school by one week as it prepares to reopen, Superintendent Brian Troop said in an email to families on August 6.

The school district, which plans to bring back students full-time for in-person instruction, with the exception of students whose families opt into the district's online program or a blended model, was slated to start classes Aug. 24. 

"We are continuing to work to prepare for the variety of instructional modes created to keep students and staff safe, reengage all students in structural learning, and be responsive to the need for choice," Troop said in the email.

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The school board has approved a school reopening plan with four options, including a brand new synchronous learning model where students at home can follow along online while their teachers instruct in-person classes during the school day. Families still have the option to send children to school to attend in-person classes five days a week with increased health and safety protocols. The district continues to offer its full-time cyber learning program — Hempfield Allied Virtual Education Network, or HAVEN — in which classes may or may not be taught by Hempfield teachers. Home schooling is another option in which families establish learning goals and objectives of their choosing while adhering to state Department of Education parameters.

A presentation showed all of the work that goes into making in-school instruction safer for students and faculty and others. Staff will use fogging for high-touch sanitation, and HVAC filters will be changed to maximize capture of virus particles. School buildings will have trained nurses who will be aware of protocols for contact tracing in the event of a possible infection in the community. Details on these and many other precautions can be found at the district’s website.

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In a reversal of previously approved plans to totally reopen Lampeter-Strasburg schools, the board approved a hybrid instructional model for high school only, in which students with last names A-L attend Monday and Tuesday, and students with last names M-Z attend Thursday and Friday. The three remaining days will be online instruction and teachers will be onsite all five days.

The board amended its two plans for reopening schools and for athletics to read that Pennsylvania health and safety guidelines take precedence over district guidelines. Since board approval June 29 of health and safety plans, state guidelines on social distancing have changed.

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The school board on Tuesday unanimously approved a motion to direct Superintendent Damaris Rau and her administration to continue planning for a fully remote return rather than the hybrid model it approved last month.

If the board approves a revised reopening plan at its meeting next week, School District of Lancaster, the largest district in the county and 13th largest in the state with about 11,000 students, would become the only Lancaster County school district to start the 2020-21 school year fully remote.

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Manheim Central

The district's revised reopening plan offers three education options for students. Options include face-to-face classes five days per week for students in kindergarten through fifth grade; four days per week with one day of online learning for grades 7 to 12; full online learning through Manheim Central Online Academy; and a blended, or hybrid, option that combines in-person learning and virtual classes.

For the blended option, students would be placed in two groups. One group would attend in-person classes Monday and Tuesday, while the other group would attend Thursday and Friday. The group not attending in-person classes would attend virtual classes.

The plan requires students to have temperatures checked by staff using a contactless thermometer and undergo a symptom screening prior to entering the school building.

Face coverings will be required for students and staff when social distancing is not possible. Students with a documented medical or mental health condition or disability that precludes wearing a mask will be exempt from the requirement.

Schools will have a supply of face coverings for students who forget to bring one from home or in the event that a student’s face covering becomes soiled during the day.

For special classes such as music, if students cannot achieve a separation distance of 6 feet, the class will be moved to a location where that distance is possible.

Students will be assigned seats on buses, and arrival times at schools will be staggered.

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Manheim Township

In a special meeting held via Zoom on Aug. 3, the board voted 8-1 to approve a health and safety plan for reopening schools on Aug. 25.

Task forces recommended that the district go back to school in the green phase of the governor’s reopening plan with three options: in-person; Manheim Township Flex Remote Learning, with cameras in classrooms so students can attend from home; and Manheim Township Virtual Academy, an online cyber school with certified teachers but not Manheim Township teachers. 

The plan focuses on cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting and ventilation; social distancing and other safety protocols; monitoring student and staff health; and other considerations for students and staff. It adheres to the requirements and considerations provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics, Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

The board also approved a resolution requiring face coverings.

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Octorara Area

Taking the recommendation of district administrators, the board has approved a plan for a return to classrooms for K-6 students with a remote learning option available. Meanwhile, students in grades 7-12 will begin the year remotely. Plans call for secondary students to return to classrooms eventually: grades 7-8 first, followed by grades 9-12. Special education and English language learners at all grades will return to classrooms.

Classrooms will be arranged to have 6 feet between students. At Octorara Primary Learning Center, there will be 15 students per class. Octorara Elementary will have 12 per class — roughly half the students normally in a class. The Intermediate School classroom capacity is close to normal levels at 19 desks per room. If 6 feet of social distance cannot be achieved, students would be required to wear masks all day.

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Penn Manor

The school board has elected to start the school year with a blended reopening model that will have most students physically in school two days a week and in virtual classrooms the other three days.

Half of students in grades 3-12 will attend school in person on Monday and Tuesday, while half will attend on Thursday and Friday. Online learning will include both live instruction led by teachers and independent work time. Grades K-2, select special education classes and students attending the Lancaster County Career & Technology Center will physically be in school every day. Multiple health and safety precautions will be taken, including mask-wearing, social distancing and cleaning classrooms after each use. Students at any grade level also have the option to enroll in the district’s virtual learning program.

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Pequea Valley

On July 9, the school board approved a phased school reopening health and safety plan for the new school year. Families also can opt between an online and in-person learning model at any time, the plan states.

Each school, according to the district’s plan, will ensure all classrooms, cafeterias, common spaces, equipment and buses are thoroughly sanitized or disinfected daily. Air dampers will be opened to ventilate occupied areas with outside air. Hand sanitizer and touchless water bottle stations will be placed throughout academic buildings.

The district will adapt its overall bus, class and building schedules to reduce traffic in hallways and communal spaces. In accordance with a statewide mandate, students and staff are required to wear face coverings whenever social distance cannot be maintained — inside school facilities or on district transportation. Face masks, however, will be optional for learners with a “mental health condition” or “respiratory issues,” the plan states.

Both parents and staff will complete independent, at-home screenings on mornings when school is in session. If symptomatic, a student or staff member should stay home. The district will also consider the use of infrared cameras to monitor body temperatures upon arrival.

Nurses will screen students, staff or visitors who display symptoms while inside a school facility. Each school will designate an isolation room where learners, visitors, and staff can be effectively quarantined. Once identified as symptomatic, students must be sent home with a parent or guardian as soon as possible.

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On Monday, Aug. 3, Superintendent Brian Bliss presented an updated plan on reopening school that calls for middle and high school students to attend class in person two days a week and learn at home three days a week. Students in kindergarten through grade 5 will be in school all five days because it is more difficult for younger children to learn remotely, school officials said.

To minimize the amount of students in the classroom, students in grades 6-12 whose last name begins with A-L will be in school Mondays and Tuesdays; students whose last name begins with M-Z will go to school Thursdays and Fridays. The other three days of the week students will learn through virtual learning or Solanco Flex, a remote learning aid designed to simulate face to face interaction between students and teachers.

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The board approved the Phased School Reopening Health and Safety Plan and the Athletics Health and Safety Plan as it seeks to get students back into brick-and-mortar classrooms for the 2020-21 school year after classes were shifted online in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has required that school districts across the state put together a comprehensive school reopening plan. Plans are to be tailored to the unique needs of each school and be created in consulatation with local health agencies. They also are to be flexible enough to adapt to changing conditions.

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