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mental health 900x675At the same time that student enrollment in the Scarsdale Schools has declined by over 200 students staffing has gone in the other direction, increasing by 52 employees from 596 in 2014 to 648 full timers for the 2021-22 school year.

This trend is poised to continue if the Board of Education approves the administration’s proposal to add more staff for the 2022-23 school year.

At a budget study session on Monday January 10, the administration proposed to add staff to address growing mental health needs and to implement a new math program in the elementary schools as well as hiring additional cleaner and a a grounds person. Also in the proposal is the transition of 14 part time office clerks to seven full time positions. All in the requests would add more than $1 million to the budget for the next school year.

When asked why mental health and special education needs were growing at the schools, Assistant Superintendent Eric Rauschenbach provided a few contributing factors:

-First, the stigma about mental health is decreasing and more students are requesting help.

-The special needs student population has grown, and in the past five years the program has increased from 10 ICT (integrated co-teaching classes) to 19.

-The pressure to achieve is adding to student stress.

-The COVID crisis and remote learning has caused isolation, alienation and depression.

-In addition, the district is seeking to offer services in-district to students who were previously outplaced at the district’s expense.

Specifically, the administration proposed the following Tier 1 requests for staffing in the 2022-23 school budget.

One elementary school math teacher to help the district roll-out a new Next Gen standards aligned math program. This person would work with the current math coordinator. This program is estimated to last only two years. Cost $110,000

One Special Education teacher to work with students on life skills in the Bridge Program, during their transition from elementary to middle school. Cost: $110,000

One Psychologist, one Special Education teacher and an Aide to staff a new student support program at the Middle School, similar to a program at the High School. The program is designed to “help students manage anxiety and depression while providing coping skills and immediate feedback for certain behaviors. The focus is on maintaining a stable, positive environment while helping students to develop their self-advocacy skills.” Cost $235,000.

An Instructional Technology Specialist or computer teacher for the middle school to teach computer science and support technology needs. Cost: $110,000

A full-time Social Worker to be based at the middle schools to supplement the work of the three social workers from Scarsdale Family Counseling Services to provide preventative programming and avert crises. Cost: $110,000

A full-time Psychologist for the high school to meet increased demand for counseling, evaluations and address anxiety, eating disorders and more. Cost: $125,000

A full-time Secretary to support the high school psychologist. Cost: $65,000

A full-time Social Worker at the high school to support increased mental health needs and “school programming around topics regarding character development, wellness, and mental health.” Cost: $110,000

A half time district-wide CPSE Chairperson to correspond to the increase in the number of children in the district with special needs which has risen from 409 in 2016-17 to 562 in 2021-22. Cost $55,000

The administration is also asking for an additional cleaner at the high school at a cost of $50,000, an additional grounds person at a cost of $55,000 and to transition 14 part time clerical workers into 6 full time positions.

Board members asked probing questions after Andrew Patrick, Edgar McIntosh and Eric Rauschenbach explained the rationale behind the requests which would add more than $1,000,000 to the budget.

Amber Yusuf inquired about the staffing of the Student Support Program at the high school and whether the current staff was handling the demand. Rauschenbach said, “That program has been at capacity since we started it. We are perilously close to exceeding the capacity of the staff.” About the additional of a similar program at the middle school, Rauschenbach said, “Expanding this program down to the middle school will allow us to intervene earlier. And having a “Life Skills teacher at the Middle School will allow some of these kids to gain a regular High School diploma and get work experience prior to graduation.”

Asked how many students this new program would support, Raushenbach said it would serve “Five students who are moving up to the middle school.”

About the hiring of an elementary math teacher to support the new math program rollout, McIntosh said, “The assignment should be for the launch and rollout of a new math program and support that in the next two years.” This new position is in addition to another district wide Math Support Teacher – or “helping” teacher.”

Karen Ceske asked, “What is the long-term financial impact of increasing staffing. How many of these are permanent or tenure track positions? Drew Patrick answered, “If they are full time appointments they are tenure track.”

Carl Finger said, “We have had a reasonable increase in staffing with enrollment dropping over the last five years. Can you show us the different categories of staffing that has been added – in addition to breaking them down by school?”

He asked, “Is the math helping teacher permanent?” Mcintosh said, “It would be a current classroom teacher who would fill this role for two years.”

Finger also asked, “What will be the total net dollar difference for moving these 14 part time people to seven full time positions? Patrick responded, “The maximum will be $105,000.”

Rauschenbach said that he will outline more specifics about the number of students who have been transitioned into the district in a presentation about Special Education at the next Board of Education meeting. However, he said, “There is about a savings of $65,000” for each student who is served in the district, rather than outplaced.

Bob Klein said, “I understand there is a general trend toward moving services and students back to the district. Is there an analysis of the long-term costs of using outside vendors vs. providing services in district to see what’s most cost effective for functions such as food service and transportation?

Stuart Mattey said that “Yes the business office does do these analyses”

Rauschenback explained the growth in the need for special needs staffing, saying “Part of the attraction of moving here is our skill set for special needs education – so it continues to grow. We have moved from 10 sections of ICT (integrated co-teaching classes) to 19 sections in the past five years.”

Ron Schulhof asked, “Is this proposal to address the mental health needs during COVID – or ongoing? Will mental health needs normalize?”

Rauschenbach replied, “We have seen the trends moving in this direction pre-COVID, but COVID has increased that trend… if not we would not be asking for a psychologist and a social worker at the high school. We will continue to look at these positions. This is not a need specific to COVID.”

Schulfhof said, “What is going on with our kids in the schools? I would like a deeper dive into what is going on.”

About school enrollment projections, Patrick said, “Right now we’re at 4,612 students. Enrollment is based on the replacement of the outgoing senior class with the incoming kindergarten class. The trend has been smaller kindergarten classes relative to the graduating classes. For next year we are projecting the same number of sections as we have this year.”

On the question about the increase in the number of cleaners, Stuart Mattey said, “Our enhanced routine we used during COVID has become our regular routine. That’s why we are asking for additional cleaners.”

This presentation was an initial request, the first in a series of budget meetings in the months to come. Watch the presentation here.

NYSHealth(Updated December 30) With COVID cases on the rise in Westchester, many parents were wondering what will happen when schools reopen on January 3, 2022. Will the district use testing to keep kids in school or shorten quarantine times for those who contract COVID?

A memo from the NYS Department of Health released on December 23, 2021 provides new guidance for schools and endorses, among other strategies, a test to stay policybfor unvaccinated students and staff. You can read the entire memo here:

The memo provides many tactics that districts can use to keep schools in session while the COVID crisis continues.

Here are just a few of the new provisions:

Test to Stay

One of the new provision says, “NYSDOH supports test to stay (TTS) as a strategy that allows asymptomatic unvaccinated school-based close contacts (e.g. students, teachers, school staff) to avoid school exclusion (but not other restrictions of quarantine) by testing negative through serial testing using rapid NAAT or antigen tests during a seven-day period following exposure.

Quarantines

The memo specifies that those who are vaccinated do not need to quarantine after exposure, unless they have symptoms. This would greatly reduce the number of students in quarantine.

It also shortens the quarantine for those who contracted COVID if they can show a negative test. It says, “When diagnostic testing resources are sufficient and available, then quarantine can end after Day 7 if a diagnostic specimen tests negative and if no symptoms were reported during daily monitoring.”

Masks

For those hoping for a reprieve from mask mandates for students, the new guidelines offer no change. It says, “mask breaks” in indoor instructional settings are not permitted. When students are eating, drinking, singing or p laying a wind instrument, they can remove their mask but must be six feet apart.

The Scarsdale Schools administration reviewed the new guidance and issued the following memo to the community on December 30, 2021.

Here is the email from Dr. Thomas Hagerman:

Dear Scarsdale Community,

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a safe and relaxing holiday. We will be returning to school on January 3rd, and in advance of this, there is a lot of important information to share with you. I ask that you please read this email in its entirety.

First and foremost, we believe our students need to continue to experience school in person. We have, and will continue to, adjust and adapt our mitigation efforts to minimize the risk of exposure and spread of COVID-19. Our goal is to keep our schools open and safe. However, two scenarios could impact this decision at this time: (1) public health authorities or the Governor closes down schools; or (2) we are unable to safely and effectively staff our classes and/or schools due to required quarantines or isolation. Further information is provided below, explaining what to expect should either of these situations arise.

As a public school system, we cannot require COVID-19 testing in order for students to attend school. However, we do ask that students who have traveled over break or who are not feeling well get tested before returning to classes on Monday. Students who are not feeling well should not come to school.

Metrics:
Over the past many weeks, COVID-19 metrics have dramatically increased in Westchester County along with the rest of the country. As of this morning, Westchester has 224.3 cases per 100k people, an infection rate of 1.51%, and a positivity rate of 12.4%. These numbers are concerning, as they are as high as they have been during the pandemic. That being said, 91.1% of the County have received a first dose of the vaccine, and 75.6% of the population have been fully-vaccinated. Additionally, hospitalizations and deaths remain far below those that we experienced during previous surges in the virus, especially for those who are vaccinated. We continue to encourage all of our community members to get vaccinated and receive their booster shots as soon as they are able to do so.

State Guidance Changes:
(1) Universal Masking - “universal masking continues to be required of teachers, staff, students, and visitors to P-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Mask breaks are no longer allowed during the school day and there is no exception to the masking requirement on the basis of minimal social distancing (e.g., 3 feet or 6 feet) in classrooms…[moreover] masks are required at any gathering on school grounds which addresses or implements educational matters where students are or may reasonably be expected to be present. (NYS DOH Guidelines)

Implications for Scarsdale Schools:
(A) Masks will need to be worn at all times--indoors and outdoors--except when students are eating lunch (socially distanced).
(B) We are asking everyone on any of our school campuses to wear a mask, including parents at drop off and pick up.
(C) Per this new guidance, mask breaks will be discontinued until further notice.
(D) Snack time at elementary schools is being postponed until further notice.
(E) All staff will be furnished with KN-95 masks. All students are encouraged to wear KN-95 masks or close-fitting, high-quality masks.

(2) 5 Day Isolation for Employees (This does not apply to students.) - The CDC recently changed their recommendations for those diagnosed with COVID-19, reducing the isolation period to 5 days. Despite this, we are governed by the NYS Department of Health, which adopts its own rules, informed by CDC and other recommendations. On December 24, 2021, the NYS Department of Health released guidance that reduced the isolation period for essential employees only. All public school employees fall into this category, including teachers. According to the NYS DOH, the isolation period for all students diagnosed with COVID-19 is still 10 days.

(3) Test-to-Stay - Just prior to the December break, the NYS Health Department also allowed Districts to implement a “test to stay” program allowing unvaccinated close contacts of COVID-19 positive individuals to continue to attend school if they receive a negative antigen test the morning prior to attending. This exemption to quarantine only allows students to attend classes, these students must maintain all other quarantine measures including avoiding in-home spread and not attending after-school programs including sports. The District will be implementing this program as soon as we receive the tests, which we expect in the coming weeks. Given our high vaccination rate, this program will only impact a relatively small number of students given that only unvaccinated students must quarantine when exposed to COVID-19. We will be sending further details once we receive the tests and are able to begin the program.

(4) Test-Out-of-Quarantine - Also prior to the December break, the NYS Health Department granted local health departments the autonomy to implement a test out of quarantine program according to the CDC recommendations. Currently, the Westchester County Department of Health has not implemented the ability to test out of quarantine after day 7. School districts are specifically restricted in NYS from allowing a test out without the local departments of health. We expect additional information on this from the WCDOH and will follow whatever procedures they put in place if they choose to adopt a test out of quarantine procedure.

(5) Return for Symptomatic Students and Staff - Given the current difficulty in obtaining PCR testing for those students who experience symptoms and require testing to return to school, the District will ALSO accept two, negative antigen tests (at-home or lab-based) for any vaccinated individual to return to school. Unvaccinated individuals must still provide a negative, lab-based PCR result.

Ongoing Testing:
The District will continue to work with Mt. Sinai and Verbosity for weekly screening testing. We will be testing all those who have signed up for testing the week we return. Tests will be handed out Tuesday, January 4, 2022, and collected on January 5, 2022.

Later this evening, Verbosity will send an invitation to all those who have not registered for the testing. Due to Verbosity’s platform, the invitation will only come to one of your registered emails (the same one you received the previous invitations). If you are interested in signing up, please look for an email from C-19 Safety First do_not_reply@mapterial.com. For those families with more than one child, you will receive an email for each child with a unique username. Please see this enrollment FAQ if you have any questions. If you do not receive the invitation email or have difficulty signing up, please contact the emails noted in the FAQ. In order to be tested the week we return, please sign up by 9 p.m. on December 31, 2021.

Current and Additional Risk Mitigation Efforts:
The District continues to follow risk mitigation measures, including proper masking, handwashing, and respiratory etiquette. The District will continue to provide hand sanitizer and handwashing opportunities within classrooms. Teachers will continue to emphasize the need for respiratory hygiene and cleanliness, especially in the younger grades.

(1) Lunch - Lunch will proceed as in the past with 6ft social distance, except masks must be worn at all times, except when food is being ingested.

(2) Facilities - The District’s Ventilation Plan is still being implemented with all classrooms and common spaces either having MERV-13 filtered mechanical fresh air or portable HEPA filters in place. Additionally, our cleaning and disinfecting procedures remain in full effect with enhanced disinfection of surfaces and more regular cleaning of high-touch surfaces.

(3) Large Group Activities, Trips, and Visitors - Prior to the break, we announced the lessening of COVID-19 restrictions with regards to large group events, overnight field trips, and visitor policies. Given the current COVID-19 metrics, we will be reinstating the restrictions previously in effect until the end of January when we will reevaluate. These restrictions will include the elimination of spectators at sports competitions and the cancellation of any field trips scheduled during January. We hope as the current surge in cases eases, we will be able to return to more normalized practices in all of these areas.

Sports and Extracurricular Activities:
In an effort to offer extracurricular activities while COVID-19 cases are increasing, we are re-implementing strict health and safety procedures for those who chose to participate. These procedures include mask-wearing, social distancing, facility utilization, spectator restriction, and travel limits. The procedures will apply to all participants while they are on school grounds or at school-sponsored activities. More details about these procedures will be communicated to the community as relevant.

Regents Exams for January are Canceled:
The New York State Education Department is canceling the January 2022 administration of the New York State High School Regents Examination Program in response to the ongoing impact of the COVID–19 pandemic. This link provides additional information.

Quarantine Instruction:
The District intends to continue the current quarantine instruction plan as communicated on September 29, 2021. The only change at this time will be at Scarsdale High School, where passive live streaming will be open to students who are under a mandated order of isolation or quarantine. Mr. Bonamo will be sending a communication to students and parents with more information.

Remote Instruction:
At the beginning of the year, we prepared an emergency remote instruction plan for each level in the event of a whole class, school-wide, or District-wide closure due to COVID-19. This plan will only be implemented in the event the State initiates a mandate to close schools or the number of quarantined staff impacts our ability to safely staff a classroom, a grade, a school, and/or our District. The student schedules were developed utilizing the most effective practices from our last closure to maximize student learning, connection, and engagement. The specifics of these plans will be communicated through building leadership and classroom teachers in the event they are needed.

In closing, it is imperative that our community continues to work together and follow our risk mitigation efforts, both in school and at home. This is critical to keep everyone safe and our schools open. As always, we thank you for your support and cooperation in these efforts.

Warm regards,
Dr. Thomas Hagerman
Superintendent of Schools

publiccommentAt the height of the pandemic, with some school buildings closed, social distancing in force and remote learning replacing in class attendance, parents had a lot to say to the Board of Education about school policies. As a result some meetings extended late into the night, and the Board struggled to do their business and hear comments from the public.

With that experience in mind, the Board re-examined their policies on public comments and reviewed proposed changes at the December 6, 2021 meeting. They discussed the time limit for individual remarks, the overall time limit for the first public comment period and for the second as well. They also reviewed when to respond to the comments, i.e. after the first public comment session, after the second, or after both.

Currently individual remarks are capped at three minutes, with a one and a half hour limit on the first public session and no limit on the timing of the second session.

The Board deliberated at length about this policy, in an attempt to weigh their desire to listen to the public and conduct necessary board business. As Jim Dugan said, “We want to hear from the community and encourage people to express their opinions. It is a meeting of the Board in public, not with the public. There is important business we are attending to. We have to weigh encouraging public comment with the obligation we have to conduct our business in public. Having no time limit could become unwieldy. Having a time limit forces people to make their best points in the time that they have to make them. I support the limit of the first time period to 1 ½ hours and no time limit for the second.”

Ron Schulhof referenced a meeting last year when twenty people who attended the meeting went home without having the opportunity to speak. He said, ““There should be no limit on any of it. (The time limit on individuals) should not be 3 minutes, We don’t usually have this issue unless people need to speak. I don’t feel there should be time limits on the first and second public periods. If people need to speak, we need to hear from them.” He later said, “People often speak on behalf of community groups and then they need to bring multiple people to read their statements,” and “we talk about community engagement and this is a signal to the community that we want to hear from them.”

Amber Yusuf said, “Hearing from our community is important, via email and public comment. We strive to reply to every email so that the writer knows they have been heard. We should do the same with people who attend the meeting. We also need to conduct board meetings. At the height of the pandemic at one meeting we had 34 speakers share their thoughts. I support a 4 minute time limit for the speakers. Without limits on speakers we may run out of time to conduct board business. I don’t not support imposing a time limit on the first or second public comment sessions.”

Jessica Resnick Ault said, “This year we are focusing on community engagement and DEI – some of these comments are difficult to deliver in just 3 minutes.” She later said, “There are subjects that would engender enough conversation that it would exceed 1 ½ hours. I think it is critical not to limit the first public comment period so that we can hear from them before we deliberate. We can have a listening session if we need one to engage the community. I think we owe it to them to listen to those concerns. Comments should naturally moderate themselves. I think it’s worth the tradeoff not to have a time limit.

Karen Ceske said, “I support limit to individual comments. At 3 minutes they will be asked to limit their comments with the expectation that they will not speak for more than 4 minutes.” She commented, “When speaking before the Village Board about our marijuana letter, I had to edit a small portion of our letter. I support limiting first public comment session to 1 ½ hours and I do not believe the second public comment session should be limited.”

At the conclusion of the discussion the Board came to consensus on a 4 minute time limit for individual comments with a warning at 3 minutes, a 90 minute limit on the first public comments session and no limit on the second public comments session. They agreed to have a second reading of this policy at their meeting on January 10, 2022.

Furthermore, they agreed to revise the preamble to public comments to reflect this policy.

About the timing of the response to public comments, the Board agreed to allow for responses after both the first and second public comments sessions.

SBNCThe election for the School Board Nominating Committee will be held on Tuesday January 11, 2021 from 7 – 10 am and 2 – 9 pm at Scarsdale Middle School. Along with voting for members of the SBNC, (see their bios here) voters will be asked to vote “Yes” or “No” on eight amendments to the non-partisan resolution that governs the nominating process. The last proposed amendment would permit Scarsdale residents who are not U.S. citizens to serve on the School Board Nominating Committee and to vote in the election for the first time. Another amendment would require the committee to ask each candidate “individualized and differentiated questions,” which is a departure from the current procedure of asking each candidate to make an oral presentation.

The statement from the League notes that the tight timetable for the proposed changes from the SBNC Administrative Committee did not allow for “ample voter education efforts and solicitation of community-wide feedback prior to the January election.” They ask that in the future the SBNC Resolution be amended to “provide sufficient notice to the public of any proposed SBNC Resolution amendments as well as to establish a more meaningful public comment process in which to solicit, receive, and respond to comments from the entire community.”

The League of Women Voters of Scarsdale reviewed the proposed amendments and offers their position on each below. (Note that there is no number 5.)

Amendment 1 (Article III, Section A.4(d)) would require Nominating Committee members to recuse themselves from all SBNC proceedings if a close relative, as defined in the amendment, is a potential school board candidate being considered by the SBNC.

The League has consistently observed that conflicts of interest, whether perceived or actual, have a detrimental effect on any democratic process. Efforts to eliminate that perception or reality are in the greater interest of a well-functioning and respected democratic process. Therefore, the League supports this proposed amendment.

Amendment 2 (Article III, Section B.1(a,b)) would establish and set forth the parameters of a formal orientation meeting for new Nominating Committee members.

The League has strongly supported and encouraged the retention and codification of institutional knowledge as a key component in a highly-functioning democratic institution. Therefore, the League supports this proposed amendment.

Amendment 3 (Article III, Section B.3(a,b)) would establish a “Resolution Clarification Committee” to resolve issues of interpretation of or compliance with the SBNC Resolution.

The League neither supports nor opposes this proposed amendment.

Amendment 4 (Article III, Section C.2(a,b,c)) would change the procedures for interviewing candidates by requiring candidates to make an oral presentation to the Nominating Committee and to answer interview questions posed by Nominating Committee members. The proposed amendment requires the SBNC to ask 1) the same initial questions and 2) “individualized and differentiated questions” of all candidates.

According to the Vice Chair, input from current and former Nominating Committee members as well as previous candidates supported a required interview with the SBNC rather than an optional interview. The Vice Chair noted that a common theme of the feedback reflected the general desire for greater flexibility and interaction with candidates to create a truer “interview” feel in the candidate search process. The proposed amendment offers a general framework in which both initial as well as individualized and differentiated questions must be asked, but it does not enumerate the procedures for formulating and approving interview questions or the manner in which questions will be asked during the interview process.

While the League commends the decision to require an interview process allowing the Nominating Committee to better evaluate potential candidates instead of the current optional language in the SBNC Resolution, the League has reservations about the challenges in implementing a procedure for formulating and asking individualized and differentiated questions. Additionally, the League has concerns regarding the potential for bias which may result from such individualized and differentiated questioning.

Due to the above-mentioned concerns, the League neither supports nor opposes this proposed amendment.

Amendment 6 (Article III, Section C.2(d)) would require the SBNC to contact both references provided by, and at least one reference not provided by, each potential school board candidate being considered by the SBNC.

The League supports the proposed amendment.

Amendment 7 (Article III, Section C.2(e, f)) would require the SBNC to discuss objective criteria for evaluating candidates as well as the qualifications and experience of candidates.

We commend the SBNC for providing guidance in evaluating candidates to better ensure that all candidates are treated fairly. The League supports the proposed amendment.

Amendment 8 (Article III, Section C.2(g)) would specify the information SBNC members must keep confidential.

The League supports the confidentiality requirement of the SBNC’s nonpartisan nominating process and therefore supports this proposed amendment.

Amendment 9 (Article V, Article I) allows noncitizens residing in Scarsdale to serve on the SBNC and vote in SBNC elections.

The League recognizes the contributions of noncitizen residents who participate in all aspects of community life in Scarsdale and whose children are eligible to attend Scarsdale Public Schools. We approve the expansion of eligibility to vote in the SBNC election and serve on the SBNC as a means to increase opportunities for noncitizen residents to be engaged in local civic activities and to ensure that the composition of the SBNC more closely reflects the community it serves. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are central to creating a more perfect democracy. Accordingly, the League strongly supports this proposed amendment.

However, the League recognizes the potential for this amendment to cause confusion among residents, since, under New York state law, noncitizens remain ineligible to vote in the actual school budget/school board election and are ineligible to run as candidates for or serve on the Scarsdale Board of Education. We urge the SBNC to undertake significant efforts to educate the public regarding this disparity to avoid uncertainty or disappointment at the polls.

Conclusion

The League appreciates the Committee’s efforts to improve the SBNC election system. The League believes that a greater effort to educate the public and the provision of additional time to review and comment upon proposed amendments to the SBNC Resolution would increase community engagement and further enhance the nonpartisan School Election System.

pies2The Edgewood Elementary School Fifth Grade Committee sweetened many Thanksgiving tables this year by delivering pies from Baked by Susan in Croton-on-Hudson directly to homes across town. 180 pies were sold and delivered with proceeds to benefit the Edgewood PTA and Fifth Grade Committee.

The most popular offering was apple pie followed by a tie for pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread. We had the apple cranberry and it was delicious.

The committee raised $2,000 which will be used to host special events for the fifth graders in their final year at Edgewood Elementary School.

pies1pies3

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