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legionellaAs if COVID did not pose enough of a challenge to the reopening of the Scarsdale Schools, now the district has announced that legionella bacteria, the cause of Legionnaires’ disease, has been found in the water at Scarsdale Middle School and the Quaker Ridge School. An email from the district says, “The bacteria can cause a form of pneumonia that can be severe. While found in drinking water, the disease may result by breathing in or aspirating small water droplets containing a pathogenic type of legionella bacteria.”

Testing at the school was conducted on September 4, but results were not reported until September 14. You can see the test results here: As a result, the district covered all water fountains and drinking stations with the exception of water stations that include UV filtration, that kills the pathogens. They will supply water bottles for drinking at both schools, and plan to replace all water fountains with UV filtration stations. According to an email from School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Hagerman, “District Food Services in the two affected schools will suspend the use of kitchen sinks at for food preparation until mitigation is complete.” It’s not clear how they can prepare food without water.

In order to eradicate the bacteria, the district plans to disinfect the system, flush the lines and retest. This work will be done at all seven schools.

According to Scarsdale resident and physician Darlene Lefrancois, “It is unfortunately Legionella pneumophilia, a highly pathologic strain, and per reports it was at two out of four sources at Quaker Ridge and five out of six at the Middle School, representing an extensive degree of small to moderate colonization.”

She continued, “I am glad to see they are planning on regular retesting going forward, also addressed in the Sept 17th briefing. I am dismayed they didn't deal with this issue before reopening the schools. Nobody needed this and it was foreseeable. As I had guessed I think the COVID closures of school in March and low flow of the water is a contributor. Given this testing was done as part of the reopening plan it's unfortunate this was not dealt with prior to actual reopening schools for instruction.”

Providing some background on the bacteria, LeFrancois said, “We have unfortunately had a number of cluster outbreaks of this disease during my tenure working as a physician in the Bronx. While there are a couple of select classes of antibiotics that can treat the disease (these do not include the B-lactam class e.g. penicillin), they are certainly not 100% effective. Mortality numbers overall are as high or even higher than for COVID-19. Immediate source control is essential to eliminate the risk and until that is achieved anyone in attendance or working at the school may be at risk of acquiring this serious infection from various water sources. Thankfully, as the briefing points out, there is no person to person spread. As an important aside, the clinical presentation can be similar to that of a typical pneumonia but is very often atypical (hence why Legionella pneumonia is considered an "atypical pneumonia"). Specifically, gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g diarrhea, vomiting) are very common and may be the predominant symptom at presentation. The community should be made aware of what to look for.”

An August 27, 2020 article in the NY Times alerted the public to the risk of legionella in schools that were shutdown since March. A district in Ohio found the bacteria in five of their schools and it was detected in four schools in a district in Pennsylvania.

In order to reopen and comply with safety procedures to mitigate the risk of COVID, the Scarsdale Schools had to take many measures to alter the configuration of classrooms, install hand sanitizers and signage, purchase PPE and draft rules, regulations and procedures for to govern school attendance. Facilities Director John Trenholm retired in July which may have further stressed the administration. Testing for legionella is not part of the district’s usual protocol. In an email to parents dated September 16, 2020 Dr. Hagerman explained, “Testing for legionella is not a requirement for schools and mitigation measures are not regulated. However, we decided to add this testing as part of our broader building restart plan based on the CDC recommendations outlined in the Guidance for Reopening Buildings After Prolonged Shutdown or Reduced Operation. Going forward, we will engage in regular legionella testing as part of our comprehensive environmental testing plan.” 

The CDC report warns about the risk of both mold and legionella in buildings that have been shutdown. It opens as follows:

“The temporary shutdown or reduced operation of a building and reductions in normal water use can create hazards for returning occupants. Two potential microbial hazards that should be considered prior to reopening after a period of building inactivity are mold and Legionella (the cause of Legionnaires’ disease). For mold, a “prolonged period” may be days, weeks, or months depending upon building-specific factors, season, and weather variables. For Legionella, a “prolonged period” may be weeks or months depending on plumbing-specific factors, disinfectant residuals, water heater temperature set points, water usage patterns, and preexisting Legionella colonization.”

We’re not sure if the district conducted air quality reports to test for the presence of mold before the opening of school. For now, we don’t see these results posted on the district website, but do know that the district committed to annual testing of both air and water quality. Here is the link to the facilities page on the district website. 

Regarding legionella, in a memo to parents dated September 15, Dr. Hagerman said, “We wish this communication wasn’t regarding yet another challenge to overcome, but we would rather know and be able to complete a course of mitigation than the alternative. These are challenging times indeed, and we thank you for your support as we navigate this unusual school year.”

devicesStudents line up to receive devices at the middle school. Photo credit: Jon MarkSo how is this first week of school going for Scarsdale students and parents? From what we heard, the short answer is, it’s complicated.

Rather than go into full swing this week, the district has organized a series of virtual meetings, smaller in-person meetings and orientation for students of all grades to permit them to see their transformed schools, meet their teachers and learn about all the new safety protocols in place to safeguard the themselves and their learning environment.

At the elementary school level students are having virtual orientations with their entire class where they meet the teacher and the aids. Using a camera, they are being shown around their classroom so they will know what to expect when they start to attend in person. Also this week, each student and parent will have an individual virtual meeting with their teacher. And next week, before launching into the full hybrid schedule when half the class will attend in the morning and half in the afternoon, smaller groups of 50% of each cohort will go to school to familiarize themselves with the routine. On Thursday the 17th, the regular schedule will launch.

At the middle school, students lined up to receive their devices yesterday. The seventh and eighth graders will attend orientation this week followed by separate sessions for sixth graders. Ultimately students will attend school in person for two days per week, either Mondays and Thursdays or Tuesdays and Fridays.

At the high school, students will have only two mornings per week in school, with virtual classes in the afternoon. The entire school was invited to a virtual webinar on September 9. Initially, since attendance on the Zoom was capped at 1,000 people, some students had trouble getting on the call, but this was corrected. This week all tenth through twelfth graders went to school for a one hour orientation in their homerooms. The ninth grade will have their own orientation day on Friday September 11.

Students who choose all virtual learning, will see their classes via Zoom, while the actual class is in attendance. It’s not clear how well those at home will be able to participate while their classmates are present in the classroom.

Before entering the school each day, students will need to submit a health survey that they will have to print out and complete before going to school. The morning session will extend from 8:10 am to 12:05 pm and students will have to leave the building quickly and get home to attend their afternoon classes. Students may not be inside the school for more than 10 minutes before the start of school, and must leave within 10 minutes of their last class.

Even though in school time is so limited, some students have “free” periods in their morning schedules and there are clear instructions about where in the school they can be during that time.

Next week each cohort will go in one morning for class and beginning on September 21, the two morning a week schedule will start.

We spoke to parents with kids at all grade levels and heard about their concerns and how they were adjusting.

A parent of a kindergartner noted that a parent will pretty much be a partner in their child’s education. When kids are on Zoom, a parent will need to help them sign on to school, monitor their behavior while they watch and help them to complete any at home assignments.

Another elementary school mother was concerned about her child’s schedule to attend school in the afternoons. She said, “My own concerns about the PM cohort for my 5th grader include the fact that she won't be starting school until 12:45 so may remain unmotivated in the mornings. I think for a lot of kids, it is easier to get up and go to school, have your lessons and then go home to do asynchronous work.”

Parents were also worried about the district’s plans to sanitize the classrooms with a fogging machine between the morning and afternoon sessions. There were concerns that the fogging chemicals could cause respiratory issues. In response, the district h changed that protocol and will instead spray high touch surfaces with a green bio-based product called concrobium to clean and disinfect.

Many parents and students have been scrambling to assemble all the information they need. One mom said, “I do feel like the district has stepped up their communications, but I now feel like I am swimming in emails. I wish there was one succinct place to get all info instead of some info hidden deep in one email and other info hidden deep in a different email. While I understand, it has also been somewhat frustrating to have schedules shared so last minute.”

A mom of high school students said she was doing her best to stay positive and be grateful for what the school is offering, but she said, “it seems like this is really going to be a challenging year. I truly see parents trying hard not to freak out.”

Some parents were still reflecting on missteps in the planning process this summer and having trouble trusting in the schools. A readers said, “I think a big part of why many were so up in arms is because of the lack of transparency and that the district had no plans to share "reopening plans" with parents before submitting them to the state. The district shared the plan with teachers to assure their buy-in, which was great, but didn't plan to also share it with parents before submitting it, making parents feel like they weren't equal stakeholders. It is only my opinion, but I think if the district would have shared the plan with teachers and parents alike and explained their research and reasoning for the schedules, there would have still been a lot of unhappy people, but maybe not such an uproar.”

And the mother of a middle school and a high school student who is still reeling from the debacle this summer said, “The teachers are angry to be back in school, the parents are angry that the kids have so little school, and we are all angry about the e-learning failures in the spring and have absolutely no faith in the administration that they will do any better this year. “

Despite some complaints, it appears that overall parents realize that we are in unusual times navigating unchartered waters. Teachers who are accustomed to standing in front of a classroom of kids are now trying to keep the attention of 25 kids at home, over technology that is sometimes difficult to use. Administrators have implemented untested protocols, complex schedules and myriad rules and regulations, all in just a few weeks. No one knows whether all of these procedures will be able to combat the spread of a relentless virus and permit the district to remain open, at least partially, for the foreseeable future.

As one parent said, “Most people I speak with understand the extensive amount of work it is taking to reopen schools and appreciate everyone's effort to do so.”

SchoolVisionIn response to Scarsdale parents’ requests for more information about the Scarsdale School District’s school reopening plans and to comply with New York State Governor Cuomo’s request to have meetings with parents, the Scarsdale School Administration announced on August 10th that principals from Scarsdale’s elementary, middle and high schools would hold public forums this week. The Elementary School Forum based on the District’s restart plan was held Monday night August 17. Principals and Assistant Principals from all five of Scarsdale’s elementary schools delivered a broad outlook of what daily school will look like and stated several times that more information about curriculum content and logistics will be made available as school reentry nears.

Dr. Felix Gil, Quaker Ridge’s Principal, called the restart plan a collaborative vision that involved parents, teachers, students, administrators, consultants, and the Board of Education. In fact, “more than 100 people in the Restart Committee and subcommittees came to design the plan.” The principals presented their September plan with the intention that they will be adding to it as new information from the State and about the virus becomes available. Dr. Gil emphasized the importance of in-person learning and social connections.

In describing Scarsdale Elementary School priorities, Heathcote Elementary Principal, Maria Stiles, explained, “Our goal from day one was to place safety at the forefront of all possible plans. The ultimate goal is to have all of our students back at full capacity for all day instruction as quickly as is possible.” She stated that in-person learning is valuable when safe and possible and that connection and socialization for young learners is important. Predictability of schedules and routines, as well as coherent, common learning outcomes by grade are also principals’ priorities.

AM/PM Hybrid, Virtual-Only, and Special Education Schedules

Fox Meadow Elementary School Principal Melissa Feinberg presented on the AM/PM hybrid model chosen by the District. That learning modality will be a combination of ‘small group instruction, one-on-one, and the whole group of students.” While students in the hybrid in-person model are at school, the other half will be at home completing asynchronous assignments designed to be completed independently.

AMHybrid

Feinberg stated that parents will receive Zoom links ahead of time and that schedules will be structured with consistency. Additionally, students will receive technology readiness instruction so that they are prepared in vase there has to be a shift to 100% remote learning.

TypicalDay

All five elementary schools will be operating on the same daily schedule. There will be staggered arrival and dismissals in order to abide by social distancing protocols. While logistics specifics will be forthcoming at a later date, the principals emphasized the importance of “adhering to designated arrival and dismissal times and locations.

For the elementary students who will be in the virtual-only model, they will receive daily remote instruction in small group, breakouts, as well as in whole groups. Their asynchronous assignments, like for the in-person learners, will be designed to foster student independence. The virtual-only day will be structured like the Hybrid model, divided in AM and PM groups.

Special Education and Bridge Classes will be scheduled for the full day.

SpecialEd

Tier II support, such as occupational and physical therapy will begin in October and will be scheduled on Wednesdays via Zoom. IEPs and 504 accommodations will be honored in all learning structures, but adjustments may be made.

Technology

Edgewood Assistant Principal William Yang, who served in the Technology Restart Committee, stated that student access to technology is very important and that all students will be receiving a technology device from school with the same configuration. K-2 students will receive an iPad while students in the third-fifth grade will receive a Chromebook. Students will need to carry their devices to and from school on a daily basis. Additionally, the District invested in a number of additional online services in order to support blended learning. There will be uniformity in the platforms by school level. Younger students will use Seesaw, while the older elementary students will use Google Classroom. “We hope to help students and parents with a portal. We will provide classes for parents and students. Details will follow in the fall.”

Elementary School Curriculum

The elementary school curriculum was created by the various Restart committees with the intention that it can be used for in-person and virtual-only learning. Underpinning the curriculum design was also the understanding that teachers and students may have to pivot from in-person learning to remote learning and vice versa. During the summer, teacher representatives from each grade have been working with English Language Arts (ELA) coordinators to create reliable and realistic student assessments that will function in a variety of learning environments. A team of teachers is also collaborating to review and revise the Scarsdale Literacy Guide: A Balanced Approach for Elementary Learning. A math research team at each grade level is engaged in standards based alignment that focuses on the essential math skills to set up students for subsequent years. For some grades, teachers have begun digitizing science lessons.

Risk Mitigation

Scarsdale principals also spent considerable time in the presentation discussion what risk mitigation will look like at the elementary schools. Parent and staff will complete a daily health screener. Every morning parents will be required to fill out a form about their children’s health, which must be sent in to school. Staff and teachers will not take children’s temperature on a daily basis on arrival.

In order to comply with social distancing guidance, arrival and dismissal will be staggered; more information about logistics will be communicated to parents by each principal in the days to come. Students and teachers desks will be placed six feet apart. All staff and students will be required to wear facemasks. Face shields are not required but they can be worn. All rooms will be cleaned and disinfected prior to the AM and PM classes. Hallway movement is being reviewed. The District plans to adhere to CDC and New York State Department of Health guidance.

The principals “ask that all members of our community adhere to social distance and mask requirements as well as travel advisories.” They emphasized that it is important that students be ready. Parents need to discuss with students that school will be different. For example, students will not sit on rugs or pillows, and they will not use lockers. The principals recommend that students practice wearing masks at home for an hour and wash their hands for the time that it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice.

Transportation and Lunch

Students taking buses to school must practice a six-foot separation whenever possible and will be required to wear masks. Buses will be loaded and unloaded in a staggered manner.

The hybrid AM/PM model will not include an in-school lunch period. Presently, the school district is working on developing a Grab and Go bagged lunch service. Should they want this service, parents will need to order lunch ahead of time using the Nutrislice App; only cold options such as sandwiches, salads, and bento boxes will be available.

Critical Factors

In pointing out critical factors, Dr. Gil stated that all school stakeholders are important. “Our ability to staff the school year adequately is an open question.” The District is monitoring staff availability. “We are in constant conversation with our teachers.” Principals are also exploring the extent to which they can increase in-person instruction by using large spaces that could accommodate more students while abiding by social distancing guidance.

Once the school year starts, if developmentally appropriate, students are encouraged to express any concerns with their teachers directly. Parents and guardians can reach out to teachers as well as to principals with any questions or concerns.

Highlights of Questions and Answers

Over 120 questions were posed during the meeting in the Zoom chat box. Most of the questions were answered during the presentation or in the chat box. Those questions and answers, if new, will be added to the District’s Frequently Asked Questions. Jerry Crisci, Scarsdale Director of Instructional Technology and Innovation informed me that his team and he are in the process of consolidating the two FAQ documents on the District’s website.

Can I choose AM/PM for my child? Can this rotate and can I move from hybrid to remote at any time during the trimester?

No to all three questions. The algorithm takes precedence. Siblings and twins will be put together. Our priority is safety. There will be no rotation between AM/PM. Change from hybrid to remote can happen at the end of trimester.

What will be done to create a remote learning community with students from all 5 elementary schools? Will students enrolled in remote learning join their “home” school for specials and school wide events?

Teachers will provide remote online activities mirroring the classroom. It is important that remote students are connected to their schools. They will be included in school wide events. Should there be a District change to remote, virtual-only student will stay their virtual teacher.

Will parents be required to play a significant role in supporting children during asynchronous learning?

All assignments at home should be done independently or with specials teachers.

Will children borrow library books and have access to the books in their class libraries?

We are working on clarity about borrowing in libraries. Teachers will curate books from which students can choose. We value student choice. We will circulate books from school libraries.

Will children have collaborative learning opportunities/projects?

Opportunities for collaborative learning will be explored.

Will textbooks be provided to the students enrolled in remote learning?

Students will receive books to support their learning. Students in the hybrid in-person learning will have to travel with books on a daily basis with ready access.

When will teachers plan and collaborate?

Planning and collaboration will be supported by front loading Superintendent Days to September and also on alternating Wednesdays when there will be no AM or PM classes. These days will be for teacher development. On those days, students will engage in independent work assigned by the teachers. The possibility of integration for synchronous specials is still being developed.

Given that the AM/PM model has been selected for elementary school students, the curriculum will not be what it has been in previous years. How will it be adjusted or reduced? How much of the curriculum will our kids not get? What metrics were used to determine that AM/PM should be chosen over the initially proposed A/B hybrid model? Does the District doctor believe that AM/PM is safer than the A/B model? Do teachers like the AM/PM model? If not, should we be on the A/B model? When will we hear from teachers directly so that we may understand their concerns, fears, needs, and recommendations? How may parents provide support to teachers?

The curriculum will be streamlined. Curricular expectations will be published and explained. The current model was considered at Board of Education level. Corresponding information can be found with those sources. We are working with all teachers to ensure they are working in a safe and productive environment.

Will the curriculum be the same across the grade or different by each class? If we wanted to form a pod with other families on the same AM or PM schedule, so that working parents can share in the cost of a babysitter, does it need to be kids in the same class?

We aim for consistent learning programs and outcomes for in-person and virtual school.

Will there be enough teachers teaching all the classes? Or will there be aids teaching?

Kindergarten orientation was mentioned; will that still be possible? If so, when in September?

At this point we have the necessary faculty. Aides will not be teaching. We are still developing an in-person Kindergarten student welcome. We know that it is a big adjustment for them. There are no plans for a parent orientation.

How will feedback be provided on daily asynchronous work?

Daily asynchronous work will be similar to traditional homework and will be checked as always.

What is the overall time frame for arrival and dismissal for both cohorts? I understand it will be staggered.

We will begin with 30 minutes but will shorten this period as the students and parents become familiar with the new system.

How will ventilation work at schools?

The District has worked on improving ventilation. Where it was possible, Merv-13 filters have been place. We also are having ventilation 24-7. Cost savings have been eliminated this year. We also ask teachers to open windows and doors.

We saw today the schedule for LRC pull-outs. How long are those sessions? When do OT and Speech pull-outs take place?

LRC sessions will be 30 min. All related services will be scheduled virtually when students are home.

Can we have more information on small group meetings for students that are all virtual? How many small group meetings will there be per week? And what will be the focus of these meetings?

Virtual small group meetings will be developed by the remote learning teacher. They may include direct instruction, community building or check-ins for students.

If a kid is sick, can he join the other group's virtual class?

We would like to keep students in his/her assigned cohort.

Do you know when we will receive our child’s teacher placement and cohort?

Due to the complexity of creating the cohorts, we believe the lists will be ready at the start of September.

What will a mask break look like?

A mask break will be for a short period of time. Students will social-distance and be outside. On bad weather days, students will step into the hallway and stay away from other students. This will happen in small groups.

If a student/child needs comforting, how will this be accomplished while practicing social distancing?

Teachers will be wearing masks and will interact with students socially distanced, communicating with care and concern to provide the reassurance and the care and concern that is appropriate.

Have teachers now been trained in use of remote based learning technology such a ZOOM? Have you established protocols for teaching teams to use ZOOM in a participatory and inclusive manner?

Our teachers have been trained on the ZOOM platform. This platform was used by our teachers last spring as well.

How will the bathrooms be managed both for classes who have one in the classroom and grades who share one?

Students will use the bathroom one at a time.

Will all students be given workbooks so the work does not need to be printed at home every day?

We will be providing as many of the materials for schooling as we can provide students. To address specific needs, you can always approach the classroom teacher.

If your child is slightly unwell and decides to stay home, can she/he switch to virtual for the day or will they have to miss the am or pm in-person session?

If your child is enrolled in the hybrid program, they may not switch to the virtual program for a day.

What is the District’s plan if we are in a better place in January than we originally thought? Will the District try to get all our children back to the classrooms on a normal schedule?

The goal is to return to full schooling as soon as public health conditions allow. This will be determined with the assistance of the New York State Department of Health.

What date will the school commence in September?

We are scheduled to start after Labor Day. The exact start date is currently being discussed at the Board of Education. Please look for the Superintendent’s updates for the exact start date.

staffing2020Staffing is Up and Enrollment is Down at the Start the 2020 School Year in Scarsdale.Given all the work that is now being done to start the school year, the Scarsdale Board of Education is now meeting twice a month rather than once. They held their last virtual meeting on Monday evening September 1 and announced their next meeting would be held in person on September 14, 2020. Dr. Hagerman announced that the staff and faculty convocation, customarily a joyous gathering to launch the school year, will be held virtually this year on September 2, 2020.

The beginning of the school year will be phased in with orientation for elementary school students on the week of September 10 and the full hybrid plan beginning on September 17. Virtual learners will follow a similar schedule. At the middle school, are a series of virtual and in-person orientations beginning on September 10 and extending through September 18, 2020. At the high school, ninth graders begin with a webinar on September 8, a virtual orientation on September 9 and an in-person orientation on September 11. Hybrid learning is phased in for all grades from September 14 – 18.

With complex plans in the works, the meeting covered progress on the district’s restart plan, enrollment, staffing, an update on athletics and facilities.

Health and Safety

Discussing the Scarsdale Schools Covid-19 Family District Compact which asks parents and children to follow safety protocols, Dr. Hagerman said that it has been signed by half of Scarsdale families. Though it is not required for attendance the district feels that it’s important to get families’ commitment to guidelines.

The district is working with a group of resident physicians who are mothers who are sharing their medical expertise. To date, they have created two guides that are posted online. One is an educational guide to the use of face masks, and the other is guidelines for a safe return to school.

Dr. Hagerman said that the district is collaborating with White Plains Hospital on streamlining testing and helping families to find out how they can access testing.

Eric Rauschenbach offered a review of the proceedings of the Restart Steering Committee including the parent compact, testing availability, along with closure protocols. He mentioned three reasons for the possible closure of school once it opens, including an order from the Governor, staffing shortages or excessive heat. He explained that the district’s cooling plan allows for school to remain in session during days when temperatures rise above 90 degrees by grouping students in large common spaces that are air conditioned. However, due to the distancing requirements, it would no longer be possible to use these spaces for that purpose, and in the event it gets too hot, school might have to be cancelled.

Enrollment and Staffing

Assistant Superintendent Andrew Patrick explained that student enrollment is lower than projected and staffing is higher than budgeted. The district budgeted for 4,743 students but will begin the year with 4,657. They planned for 460.8 teachers but will begin the year with 465. In terms of total staff, the district budgeted for 630 but now have 644 employees.

Why the increase in staff? Patrick explained that kindergarten enrollment fell short of the demographers projections, and recently some kindergarten and first grade students have withdrawn from school for the year. However in other grades, students entered and caused class sections to break, resulting in 108 rather than 102 sections. This includes two virtual class sections in each elementary school grade and three virtual sections in first grade. Middle School and High School student enrollment and staffing were on target with the budget.

New cleaning and disinfecting protocols which require work both before and after school and in between class sessions necessitated the hiring of 9.5 full time employees to the custodial staff.

Reviewing the class distributions which showed some virtual classes with 22 or 23 students, Board member Amber Yusuf asked Patrick, “Some of the virtual elementary classes seem pretty full - how will a student be placed in a virtual class if they decide to move from hybrid? Patrick responded, “We have space in some of these classes, but we do exceed class sizes limits during the year – if we have students move in we sometimes make slightly larger classes. I am not sure exactly what we would do – we could hire an additional teacher or set up a co-taught class. The virtual classes still follow the am/pm model, so the teacher is only working with half of the students at a time. Even if we go all remote, there will still be the am/pm model as the research shows that small class sizes are better.

Later in the meeting Patrick discussed requests from teachers for accommodations. He said, “We heard many requests via the Americans with Disabilities Act. We have received 91 requests – the vast majority are from teachers. They have come from all 7 buildings. We granted 13 remote accommodations for work from home and provided enhanced PPE.” He noted that the district may continue to receive requests, saying, “There is no time limit for requesting an accommodation – it is the law.”

He added, “We do have employees struggling with childcare because the childcare is not open or their own children have a hybrid schedule. They are working hard to find arrangements.” He said that staffing could be a challenge throughout the year, noting, “Teachers can take intermittent leave – even for an hour during the school day.”

Facilities

Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey said, “We are getting our buildings ready.” He said preventative maintenance and testing were being done on HVA systems and the fire alarms. The district is installing signage throughout the buildings for traffic flow and hand washing hand sanitizing stations are being installed at building entries, in classrooms and doorways. They are replacing hand air dryers with paper towel dispensers and blocking off urinals for social distancing. Classrooms are being laid out in accordance with enrollment and to ensure physical distancing.

Mattey explained new cleaning protocols which call for high touch surfaces to be cleaned throughout the day and bathrooms to be disinfected in the middle and the end of each day. The buses will be cleaned after each run and disinfected at the end of each day. Drivers are being trained on proper disinfection.

He responded to parents concerns about the midday cleaning between cohorts and said, “The CDC and the school physician recommend that that disinfection occur. We use green, bio-based products that also disinfect. Cleaning protocols are posted online. They will use fogging or atomizing between the am and pm sessions. This allows product to be applied to all areas. It’s the most expedient. Dense fog drops within seconds.”

Mattey reviewed ventilation work, saying, “The ventilation plan focuses on introducing as much fresh air as possible, filtration and exhausting building air.”

He explained, “Physical distancing and wearing of masks are the main mitigating factors and ventilation is third.” “Opening the windows is very effective” and the district will “bypass their energy recovery systems to introduce fresh air.” Increasing outdoor air ventilation will change the amount of air the systems bring inside. They will run the ventilations systems for two to three hours after the students leave the building as well. The district is installing MERV 13 filters wherever possible and using MERV 8 filters where MERV 13 filters cannot be used.

The newer ventilation systems installed at Fox Meadow, Edgewood and Heathcote are bringing in 100% fresh air and therefor do not require filters. The district has also ordered portable HEPA units to be used where filters cannot be installed.

Mattey also discussed environmental testing. He said, “We are on top of our water testing. All levels have come back at acceptable levels. Drinking, cooking, plumbing water has been tested. We are flushing hot water in all of our sinks. We are flushing all of our systems.”

Reporting on facilities work, Mattey provided an update on the renovation at Greenacres School saying, “it is almost completed…. the building looks amazing, bright and welcoming. Students and teachers will be super excited about the building. There is new lighting, cabinetry and a totally different feel. The learning commons is an amazing space that the community will enjoy. It is only rivaled by the learning commons at the high school. We’re cleaning out spaces, moving contractors equipment out, installing fixtures, and waiting for things to arrive.” He added, “Though the library, and the basement and supply closets will still need work, there will be no construction when students are in the building.”

Discussing Greenacres, Dr. Hagerman said, “Having lived through all of the difficult discussion about Greenacres, it is such a transformation. It is so light and bright and has a cool modern Scandanavian feel. It has changed the character of the school. And all the concerns about BBS … they provided all these small touches that made it an amazing remodel. It will be the gem of this district and a model for what elementary buildings should look like.”

Continuing, Hagerman said, “I have to acknowledge the teachers and the Sharons (Principal and Teacher in Charge) for picking out the colors and tiles. There are moments of drama throughout the building that are quite spectacular. Thank you to BBS and the faculty. It is a magnificent remodel. I am crestfallen that everyone will not get to see it at the opening.”

Athletics

Athletic Director Ray Pappalardi provided an update on where the school stands with competitive sports. Governor Cuomo issued guidelines on August 26 that permit “lower- and moderate-risk sports (e.g., tennis, soccer, cross country, field hockey, and swimming) to begin to practice and play on September 21. Travel for sports is prohibited until October 19, 2020. Higher-risk sports (e.g., football, wrestling, rugby, hockey, and volleyball) may practice, effective September 21, 2020, but not play until authorized at a later date, but no later than December 31, 2020… Practices are limited to individual or group, no- to low-contact training (e.g., skills development) whereby contact between players may only be incidental and any activities that are specifically designed to promote close physical contact are prohibited.”

Pappardi explained that, “The interscholastic program is part of our academic program, and we are “looking to contribute to the maturation of students,” but, “competition might not be a big part of the program this fall …..we want to model behavior by following all guidelines.”

Though tennis, soccer, cross country, field hockey, and swimming are permitted on September 21, Pappalardi said that holding tryouts and forming teams would compromise the cohort system and could increase the risk of the spread of the virus for the entire school population.

He said, “Athletic cohorts don’t have to be the same as academic cohorts. If there were tryouts – students on the A day could only try out on an A day and students in the B cohort on a B day. If the full team was selected, it would expand the practice to more cohorts. … It would compromise the entire cohort system and could send the whole school into quarantine.”

He concluded, “We will have to decide whether to start on September 21, 2020 or wait until January to begin.”

Public Comments

During public comments Sharon Chesler of Brewster Road asked for more information about how teacher aids will work in the classrooms. About kindergartners, she said, “How are we prioritizing those littlest learners – right now everything is equal and I believe our kindergartners need more of an assist.”
She also asked if the district could test waste water to see if there were COVID carriers in the schools as some colleges are doing. She requested that the district emails include links to the appropriate restart pages in every update. About the cohorts she said, “I have a kindergartner and a second grader – who will both attend the PM sessions. But other families do not have this arrangement. So you are exposing more people if all families are not together?”

Deepah Sehgal of Aspen Road said, “Both my kids will do remote learning. Regarding the specials, who will run them for the virtual cohort? What happens if more kids move to virtual since the classes are already large? Are there aids in the virtual model?”

Jennifer Zola of Carstensan Road spoke on behalf of Scarsdale Youth Soccer. She requested that fields be made available for children in grades eight and below to play. She said, “We request the school board opens fields for ISO activities. Scheduling is complicated because we don’t know anything about the availability of the fields. Though you have a lot to do, we hope you can provide interim access. I am hopeful that this can be considered in the next week or so.”

Mayra Kirkendall Rodriguez asked for details about changes in the curriculum and what will be curtailed. She said, “What metrics will we use to determine if students are receiving a competitive education?”

Rachana Singh said, “I implore the board to publish more details about changes to the curriculum, more details would be welcome”. She asked for more parent education and links to supplemental fact sheets. She said, “I want to commend Eric (Rauschenbach) for holding a productive zoom for those with students in special education.”

Jyoti Ruta of Tunstall Road said, “I am concerned that students that are remote will not have the same chance to learn as those in the hybrid program. The teachers will be busy with the students in the classroom. I feel like the first few weeks of school are when relationships are formed. If remote teachers cannot see or hear, they may be frustrated with these students. I am concerned about the added frustration for remote students. I think remote students could be on unequal footing. Can classes be recorded so that students have equal access. I feel like the hybrid and remote model creates huge inequalities.”

Responding to a few of the questions, Andrew Patrick said, “We are making aide assignments now. We will have as many in the classrooms as possible. We will have to work out the details as working at a distance is new. They can help with record keeping and homework as well. Virtual classes will also have aides.”

Dr. Hagerman addressed the kindergarten questions, saying, “We are fully committed to our youngest learners.” About cohort placements he said, “ it is impossible to match cohorts with other families but we have done it within families.”

Stuart Mattey addressed safety protocols saying, “We are mitigating risk with masks, social distancing and disinfecting. The district does not have the capacity to analyze waste water.”

About virtual learners, Edgar McIntosh said, “Specials for virtual students will be the same as the hybrid students. Virtual teachers are looking forward to reaching out to their students.”

Watch the full meeting here:

After a wild week of quickly changing restart plans for the Scarsdale Schools, member of the Board of Education commented on their roles in the process and reflected on what went wrong at a midday meeting on August 6, 2020.

As background, the district had assigned a Restart Committee and specific task forces to formulate three plans for the return to school in September. The state required each district to submit plans for in-school learning, hybrid learning and remote learning, pending the Governor’s announcement of what would be permitted.

As July wore on, it became apparent that New York State would meet the health thresholds to allow for a hybrid learning program at the district, so this plan became the focus of the community. Parents anxiously awaited the administration’s recommendations for school schedules for the elementary school, middle school and high school which were scheduled for release on July 31. However during the prior week, parents heard rumors that the hybrid plan called for all remote learning for high school students, and for district fourth and fifth graders to use the high school building.

Up to that time, there had been no formal opportunity for community input and parents were up in arms that high school students would have no in-school experience. As a result, on July 28 the Board of Education held a marathon listening session where 1,394 people signed on and 69 spoke. Parents started their own Restart Review Committee to review the plan that was released and to offer their own perspective.

In response to those comments, the district reformulated the schedule and released their 83-page Restart Plan on the August 3. This one allowed two mornings per week of in-school attendance for high schoolers, but cut elementary school attendance to 9 am to 1 pm two days a week for a total of 7 hours per week of in-school instruction. undefined

This sparked a new wave of protest from the parents of elementary school students who complained that the youngest learners needed more in-school and synchronous instruction as many are unable to learn by themselves. After receiving hundreds of emails and listening to comments from that community, the administration changed course again.

On August 5, the community received an update saying that the district had changed plans again, and would run an A/B program allowing elementary school children to attend school everyday, either morning or afternoon.

The email said, “In the last 48 hours, the Board of Education and the administration have received an enormous amount of feedback from the community, specifically around the elementary hybrid model. This feedback has been overwhelmingly focused on the amount of live instructional time and the number of days elementary students will attend schools. To be clear, the committee looked to maximize true instructional time for students, organize it into meaningful, connected blocks of learning, and to minimize the non-instruction activities so as to allow the most meaningful experience possible in the core subjects. It was also predicated on Dr. Louis Corsaro’s, our District physician, preference for an A/B model due to the mitigating effects of a reduced number of contact days for any given student.

Having said that, the community’s priority, based on this overwhelming input, is frequency of student, in-person attendance. This has resulted in the administration’s decision to adjust the hybrid model for elementary from A/B to an AM/PM model.”

The bottom line was that the community received three plans in just one week, all issued just in time to meet the state deadline.

Looking back at the hectic week, many in the community wondered about the role of the Board of Education in the process. Were they aware of the plans? Had they gathered community feedback? Why was the process so chaotic?

At a meeting of the Board of Education on August 6, several Board members and the Superintendent clarified their views on what had transpired and what they had learned.

Board President Pam Fuehrer spent the last week responding to hundreds of emails from parents. She defended her role saying, “The restart plan is the work of management… we agreed that multiple task groups and a steering committee would do the work…. The Board is not involved in daily discussions. Only Ron (Schulhof) and I are on the restart committee. Many board members don’t know the answers to many questions. We don’t know the back and forth that occurs at the task forces. This is our first opportunity to discuss the plan.”

Fuehrer also reminded the community of the importance of the faculty saying, “Faculty input has been important to restart planning… We come to Scarsdale for the teachers and the staff. The teachers make the educational experience what it is. We want our teachers to be here for years to come. Right now they are working hard to adapt their model to new situation. We will get through this because of the teachers. Help them stay safe this year.”

She did not address the lack of opportunity for community input or the wild oscillations in plans once the district heard from parents.

In emails to the community Fuehrer said, “I cannot imagine our District and building leadership participating in and guiding this work any better than they are; reopening efforts have consumed the months of June and July for them, faculty leaders, and the many others involved in the task groups… The Board oversees the work as governors (not management) but we don't formally approve or take action on the plan or the opening-model. They are the sole responsibility of Thomas; Cabinet leads the work. However, Board members clearly understand and have taken the significant responsibility of oversight seriously. They have received updates on each Steering Committee meeting through June and July, have seen presentations and asked questions about the reopening of schools at our meetings, and have been submitting questions, thoughts, and recommendations to me and Ron which we share with our Administrative Team and consider as part of our work on the Steering Committee. After guidance was received from the State on July 16, the content and detail of email updates to Board members have increased. Thomas and I speak or communicate multiple times a day on this priority; the Board is informed and is providing critical guidance, direction, and oversight.”

School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Hagerman was direct. He said, ”I wanted to discuss the process …. This has been turbulent and chaotic…. It has required us to be flexible and adaptive…. We will continue to revise our plans based on the feedback received,” adding, “The feedback was very emotional.”

He said it was the district’s intent from the beginning to gather feedback before submitting the plan to the state and said that safety planning and meeting the state requirements were as much the focus as coming up with the schedule. He said, “Schools are high regulated and we were given a specific charge. To develop an in-person plan, a hybrid plan and an e-learning plan to bring students back to school in as safe a way as possible. We wanted to provide the best education possible while maintaining safety.”

He noted, “a clear sense of despair in the community” and said, “We are a community where consensus really matters. It’s been messy in terms of process.”

Board VP Alison Singer said, “This Board has always believed in incorporating feedback into our process. Thanks to Pam for responding to so many community members.”

Board and Restart Committee member Ron Schulhof acknowledged missteps. He thanked everyone involved and said, “While I appreciate all the work done to date and all the on-going work, I do believe we need to recognize the missteps we have made, especially over the last couple of weeks. While some of these missteps could be attributed to a tight timeline and working in an environment that none of us have been in before, I believe we also need to own up where the mistakes are on us. We owe that to everybody.”

“I do believe we are now heading in a positive direction. But I believe that is in large part because of the community coming forward. It should not take two petitions and hundreds and hundreds of emails to move us in a direction that meets the current priorities of the community. This Board was elected to represent you and we need to live up to that commitment. While the administration is responsible for developing the plan, the Board has an important oversight role that I believe needs to be exercised in a more prudent manner going forward. We need to do better the next time around - and the next time around is now. We have important work that lies directly ahead of us continuing to prepare for the start of school, including the very real possibility the we will be in an all remote learning environment.”

“We also need some healing. It was never supposed to be one part of the community against another or one stakeholder against another. We owe it to our students, teachers, parents and the entire community to ensure the process is transparent and that it happens in a timely manner, so everyone has an opportunity to engage and be part of the process.”

“We know that once the plan is submitted, we then need to talk about what implementation looks like, including the details about remote learning. What will remote learning look like? What are our goals? What we do we need to do to get there for every student, Kindergarten through 12th grade. I look forward to moving ahead in a transparent, collaborative, and constructive process. “

Board member Carl Finger also struck an apologetic note. He thanked Fuehrer to responding to a “ridiculous” number of emails, and credited Dr. Hagerman with making the right decision to close schools suddenly in March. He said, “As they have made these plans, it’s clear that safety is paramount. I don’t think we can state that enough.”

About the work of the Restart Committee he said, “There was a compressed timeframe … There was a huge amount of work to get done to re-envision the way school works from start to finish – that’s a big deal.”

He noted parents concern about scheduling saying, “The community has focused on direct teacher interaction. But the administration had to deal with a lot more and there was not a lot of time.”

He also noted that the Board had failed to get community feedback as delineated in the timeline. He said, “We put out a timeline and planned to share feedback with the community in early July. Even in the absence of state guidance. Unfortunately that was a missed step in the process. I bear responsibility for that not happening. That turned out to be a lost opportunity to avoid what happened in the past few weeks.”

Finger continued, “We set the right expectation and we missed that opportunity. It also diminished the opportunity for the Restart Committee to get feedback from the community. It’s always going to be the better course to get feedback up front.”

He said, “I am going to hold myself, the Board and the administration accountable for that. Going forward we should not miss opportunities like that.”

He also regretted that “Plans got leaked without the rationale behind them. I can infer there was a rationale around that. The Restart Committee lost the opportunity to present the rationale.”

About the rapid change in plans in reaction to community sentiment he said, “The wholesale adoption of a different plan was not the best course. We came back with another plan that went severely in the other direction and we got a lot of negative feedback on that as well. There were severe errors in the way we approached this.”

He concluded, “The plan now out there is closer to what everyone wants. I hope that it is safe enough. I appreciate that we were able to get the plan to where it is today. I think we have to do better so we can move forward instead of spending our time reacting to the negative feeling in the community.”

New Board Member Bob Klein said, “I will look forward instead of back.” He said, “I made phone calls to friends on other school boards… It is all in the details. Just because someone says they will do something it doesn’t mean they can. Other districts have not worked out all the details. The plans they reached were aspirational.”

He continued, “From all I read I think we may have to deal with COVID cases in our school system. A realistic plan is to assume we will open and then go remote. It is likely that that will happen. We need to consider the nimbleness of plans in light of this.”

He also discussed the A/B elementary plan vs. the AM/PM model. He said, “My wife and I found that for working families it is easier to get full time instead of part time help to take care of children. So having children on different schedules might be better for some.”

He ended by saying, “I hope the community can be patient and wait to hear the details. The cabinet has their hearts in the right place, and they are the experts. We need to rely on the cabinet and their steering committee.”

Also new to the Board, Amber Yusuf said, “It has been a wild month so far. We have all collaborated as best we can…. I appreciate that we are putting education first and I appreciate we are balancing this with the safety of our children and our staff. Everyone has varying tolerance for risk. Everyone will need to compromise. I would like to encourage our Board to continue to hold listening sessions, and issue the Q and A.”

Karen Ceske said, “I recognize the work that has been done. Perhaps it has been bumpy at times but it has been productive. We need to look forward with faith and confidence that we will do what’s best for our children and I hope we will do that in a respectful way.”

After a discussion of the e-learning program, Stuart Mattey and Eric Rauschenbach reviewed some of the costs of reopening school.

Due to the additional cleaning required by the am/pm model at the elementary schools the district will have to hire 9.5 cleaners at a cost of $750,000.

Board portrait 2020The district will need to purchase fogging machines and disinfectants for an additional $80,000. They have purchased $220,000 in PPE which should last for the duration of the crisis and face masks will be available for the staff. In lavatories, hand dryers are being replaced with automatic paper towel dispensers. Hand sanitizing stations will be installed throughout the buildings, and since the children can no longer use the water fountains, the district is adding water filling stations to all buildings.

Since elementary school students will need to be transported twice a day, the district anticipates an additional $300,000 in transportation costs, though there will be some savings because there will be no athletic events.

The meeting included a short period for public comment.

Mayra Kirkendall Rodriguez asked the district to publish the minutes of the Restart Committee meetings. She asked for the public to hear from the Scarsdale Teachers Association with their views on PPE and training. She also asked for the district to publish their list of best practices for e-learning.

Eliza Raphael said, “When will there be opportunity for a dialogue – not just questions posed without any responses?”

Sharon Chesler said, “I understand you changed to the am/pm model based on feedback from parents. I think making this change within 24 hours without thoroughly analyzing it was not a good idea.”

David Krembs thanked RonSchulhof for taking the right tone given what has happened over the past few weeks and for concisely acknowledging that mistakes were made and that it is the board’s role to exercise oversight. He said, “I think people want to see the Board asking tough questions instead of giving lengthy speeches thanking everyone for what they have done …. I have heard that Rye Country Day is having webcams in all classrooms – kids will be able to ask questions live. Televisions will show the faces of the children who are remote. This will not reduce instruction time. We are not offering the same amount of time as regular school. I would like to see instruction time increased. I don’t want to know why we can’t have webcams. I want us to find solutions.”

Felicia Soler, said, “A sizable number of residents are considering all remote but there has been no schedule provided. It has left us frustrated. Please provide details for the all remote option. Detailed questions should be answered on the all remote option. These students are being treated as second-class citizens. Why can’t we consider livestreaming so they can be connected to the community that we live in. Some focus should be put in this direction.”

Marshall Kitain said, “The plan may not be perfect but it works. I think we can build consensus around it. Overall, when that email went out Wednesday night I could breathe a sigh of relief and heard it collectively in the community. The whipsaw that people experienced was extreme and unnecessary. There will be hard decisions over the next year. I urge the board to exercise oversight and gather community input – and have decision frameworks. We need to have community buy-in. It took two petitions to get there.”

Stacey Schutzer said, “Its not just the teachers it’s the aids, the administrators and the students that are making the district strong. At the middle school, at the 50% hybrid plan, the children are moving – it wastes 10 minutes between each class. Either ask the teachers to move classes or add in school learning for Wednesdays.

She also asked for the district to require 2-ply masks.

Schutzer continued, “I am beyond upset that the Restart Committee has not explored the fully remote plan. Children need to have their academics live daily. Parents need to know the synchronous and asynchronous plan on a day by day basis.

Irin Israel brought up some questions. He said, “We were told that using tents were insurmountable. I am not sure why. Webcams, why can’t we use them? For the full remote option there does not seem to be a plan and the spring was disaster- we would like to see the full remote plan written somewhere. Wednesdays seems like a wasted day – and it’s a lot. That day should be used for synchronous teaching.”

Valerie Phillips spoke against webcams. She said, “My 4th and 7th graders, think that if they raised a hand on a screen they would be treated as second class citizens. I think webcams are not the way to go.”

Michael Movshovich said, “Having worked with a kindergartner during the spring, they can’t do work on their own. The 2 hours 15 minutes a day in the current model is good. This is the only way for them to learn.” He asked for more synchronous learning, or more in school time with aids. He said, there is “No way for the kids to learn asynchronously. They are going to fall behind. I ask you to revisit that and prioritize in person learning for that cohort.”

Evelyn Harris asked, “How are the cohorts going to be formed? Will class lists be provided? Will cohorts be based on class? For 9th graders – will there be tours of the high school? She said, “The middle school gym is being accommodated for lunch – why can’t more of the high school space be utilized? We would like more in person time at the high school.”

Responding to questions, Dr. Hagerman asked parents to reach out to their building principals with questions specific to the school and the schedule.

You can watch the meeting here:

The District will hold additional public meetings as follows:
On August 11th, the Board of Education will host a meeting with updates on restart planning and opportunities for public comment. On August 13th, a public forum will be held by District administrators to present plans and answer questions. Finally, level-specific forums will be held by school principals on August17th (elementary), August 18th (Middle School), and August 20th (High School). Each of these meetings will be held at 6:30 p.m. Zoom links will be shared via an official Meeting Notice and posted on the District’s calendar.

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