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Students in the Exeter School District may soon find themselves back inside real classrooms five days a week.

In a message sent to parents Tuesday, Dr. Kimberly Minor, superintendent, said she is recommending a return to full-time in-person learning for the entire district starting on March 15. The school board will hold a special meeting on March 2 to vote on the plan.

Exeter began the school year with all students learning virtually, but moved to a hybrid model with students having a mix of in-person and virtual lessons in late November.

In a video message, Minor said that the district's pandemic task force met last week to look at the latest COVID-19 data and discuss returning to full in-person learning.

"We found that the case counts in Berks County, and throughout Pennsylvania, have dropped dramatically over the past few weeks," she said.

That includes things like infection rates, the percent of those tested who test positive, death rates and hospitalizations, Minor said. District officials are also excited about the potential impact vaccines will have on the pandemic.

"So we're very optimistic that we're moving forward into a new phase," she said.

Minor said that families who do not wish to send their kids to school in-person five days a week will continue to have a virtual option. Classes will be livestreamed through Zoom for the remainder of the school year.

Students currently learning virtually will automatically be enrolled in the ongoing virtual option, and those in the hybrid model will automatically be enrolled in full in-person learning. Any student who wishes to change their mode of education should contact their building principal or guidance counselor, Minor said.

Minor said the district will be relying on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization about precautions to take to ensure successful in-person learning.

"We believe at this point Exeter can proceed with a safe reopening of schools," she said.

Some of the protocols that will remain in place inside school buildings will be: a requirement for students and staff to wear masks; having students stay 3 feet apart when wearing masks and 6 feet apart when not wearing masks in order to eat; and having adults stay 6 feet apart.

"We will keep safety as our number one priority while also working to deliver an excellent education for all of our students," Minor said.

Minor said there will be some logistical hurdles to overcome with the return to full in-person learning — like bus and lunch schedules — but they will be figured out and more information will be distributed to families when they are.

The superintendent also said that even though schools won't look and feel exactly how they did before the pandemic, returning to full in-person learning will be a move toward normalcy.

"We look forward to a day when school is normal for everyone again," she said. "Not sure when that will be, but we think this is an important step to getting closer to that goal."

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