Community Awaits Scarsdale Restart Plans: Who Will Attend School in the Fall?
- Category: Schools
- Published: Sunday, 26 July 2020 22:23
- Joanne Wallenstein
With the reopening of school just weeks away, students and parents are anxiously awaiting the details. Will the kids attend school full time, part-time or not at all? A series of emails from the district offers some information about what children across all grade levels can expect, but it’s not entirely clear which grades will be on what schedule and where they will go to school.
We do know that the six foot social distancing standard will make it necessary to have as few as ten to fifteen students in each classroom. Since on average, classes are 22-26 students, this means the district needs almost double the space to accommodate the current student population.
The latest email, dated July 25, outlines the priorities the Restart Committee defined for elementary school, middle school and high school students. Though the email does not offer a specific schedule for each of these three groups, it does identify needs for each group that will be the basis of scheduling decisions.
For instance, it prioritizes in-person learning for elementary school students leading one to conclude that the elementary school population will be in class.
For middle school students, it says they share developmental needs with both elementary and high school students and require small group instruction. So again, one can assume middle schoolers will attend school for at least a part of the day or week.
However, the priorities for the high school population are "choice" and "differentiation" in course scheduling, which would make it difficult to have students in attendance on a fixed alternating schedule as the courses they require might not be offered at the correct times.
Though it cannot be confirmed, we’re hearing from students and parents that the current hybrid plan that will be submitted to NYS by July 31 will not include student attendance at Scarsdale High School. In fact, a petition posted on Change.Org that already has 605 signatures says, “Provided that some amount of in-person learning is possible, we, the students of SHS, feel that ALL of the district's students are a priority, and ALL students should have the opportunity to be back in our classrooms in September. It is unfair to deny us, your high schoolers, the academic and mental health benefits of in-person learning in order to serve an agenda of preferentially returning elementary students to their classrooms. A district choice to sacrifice the education and wellbeing of one group over another seems profoundly unfair and verging on discriminatory.”
Though we don’t know what plan will be submitted to NYS, we do know the timing of the rollout to the public.
According to the July 25 email from Dr. Hagerman, here is how plans will be communicated:
-On July 31 the district will finalize its reopening plan and present it to NYS.
-On Monday August 3, they will provide a plan and executive summary to the community.
-On August 5 a recorded webinar will be released.
-On August 6, a public forum will be held on Zoom from 1-2:30 pm.
In order to further interpret the district’s emails, we reached out to Scarsdale School Superintendent Thomas Hagerman and posed some questions about the schedule, possibilities to increase space, use of multi-purpose spaces and more. Here is what we learned:
From the July 25 email it appears that if everyone cannot return to school at one time, the priority for in person learning will be given to the younger students and those with special needs while older students will be doing more virtual learning. Is that correct?
Social-distancing and mask-wearing are required as part of state guidance. This will make it extremely difficult to have all students back without making monumental changes to course offerings and the like. The plans are in the process of being developed, so they are still under construction at this time.
Has the district considered erecting tents on the school property to allow for an expanded footprint while the weather allows - at least in September and October? If this can’t be done, please explain why it’s not feasible.
At this point, we are not considering tents as a viable option. While this suggestion has come up from several sources, there are major issues with using tents, including safety and security, electricity, weather, electronics, and cleaning and disinfecting, to name a few. Of course, we will continue to think about ways of using the outdoors for shorter periods of time and for activities that lend themselves to an outdoor experience.
The district now has many new large spaces including libraries, learning commons and cafeterias. Is it possible to divide these spaces with temporary walls in order to create additional distanced learning spaces? Have architects assessed how we can utilize these spaces to allow more children to attend school?
Absolutely. We are carefully considering the use of all spaces in our buildings. Cleaning and disinfecting requirements, however, limit the continuous use of these spaces, and the number of students and staff who can access them in a given time period.
Under the state guidelines, how many children would be permitted to attend class in our district’s smallest classrooms - and in the largest ones? Do all classrooms have the required ventilation?
Currently, the guidance speaks to 6ft social-distancing in all directions. Our average class ranges from 500-600 square feet, which means we can have approximately 10-15 people in a single class, depending on the individual classroom configuration, and staffing needs for that classroom.
Do any of the scenarios involve in-person learning for high school students?
The plans have not been finalized, so I can't answer that question right now; however, state guidance does ask that vulnerable populations (Special Education, ELL, etc.) be prioritized for in-person instruction, so this is a part of our decision-making process.
How have these decisions been impacted by union contracts? Are teachers and staff willing to be flexible to permit more students to have an in-person learning experience?
Our contracts with all bargaining groups have to be observed regardless of the pandemic, so these agreements are included in our thinking and decision-making as part of this work. Complicating factors are, of course, that these agreements reflect a more traditional, in-person schooling experience. Because of individual health concerns of both students and staff, we are making appropriate accommodations for individuals, as needed.
Have you considered giving parents a choice of whether to send their children to school or keep them at home? If so, since a certain percentage would favor learning from home, would this not create additional capacity for those who prefer to send their children to school?
Unfortunately, we do not have the staff or resources to provide an individualized choice for every family in Scarsdale. State guidance is clear that we have to make appropriate accommodations, when necessary, and we will certainly do that. Having said that, parent voice has been an important part of our planning. We have received and solicited parent feedback since early March, and most recently, through an extensive parent survey. Parents have shared a lot of qualitative and quantitative feedback, and we have been using that information to help guide our scenario planning. While the structure of our school days at each level will need to be clear and consistent in our final plans, these plans will change over time. Parents will continue to have an important voice in our restart efforts throughout the summer and fall. There is no doubt that we shared the common goal to have all students back in school when it is safe and feasible to do so.
I see that neighboring districts have announced the specifics of their hybrid learning plans in advance of their submission to the state on 7-31. This gives parents the opportunity to offer feedback and be a part of the process before it is a done deal. Is there a reason Scarsdale is keeping these details close to the vest before the submission of the plan to NYS?
Our plans are still under development, and they will be shared as soon as they are ready. We are not waiting until the deadline on purpose, we just believe we will need the full amount of time to finalize them.
We also learned what some of our neighboring districts are planning and found that they have already unveiled the plans they will submit to the state. Unlike Scarsdale in both Mamaroneck and Eastchester, all grades will attend school on an alternating schedule, in a system of shared sacrifice.
In Mamaroneck, the district has determined that they can accommodate 50% of the student population at a time in the elementary and middle schools, meaning that the students would alternate between in-school and e-learning. At the high school, 1/3 of the population can be accommodated at a time, so the population will rotate and be in school 1/3 of the time.
In Eastchester, preliminary plans call for and alternating day hybrid model where students are assigned into groups alphabetically. Classes would be about half their regular size to achieve social distancing.
Some parents of students in high school are expressing dismay about what they assume to be the plan for no regular school attendance for ninth through twelfth graders. Diane Gurden of Colvin Road summarized their concerns in the following statement:
"Scarsdale is a pioneer in education. As key stakeholders, parents require TRANSPARENCY from the Restart Committee, which includes holding community forums before the plan is presented to the Governor on 7/31, not after. Other local districts, including Edgemont and Armonk, are able to support this timeline, and Scarsdale needs to, also.
It is critical that the Restart Committee adhere to the NYSED Guidance that "equity and access must be a priority for all students". All levels, K-12, should have some component of in-person school, with K-5 needing the most time.
The Restart Plan will require unprecedented creativity in the use of space, curriculum, and schedule. Space options can explore outdoor, repurposed indoor, and Municipal/Community possibilities, such as the library, recently closed vacant religious schools, or underutilized COVID-19 special-built facilities. The curriculum should prioritize core areas like math and science and give lower priority to the "nice to haves". Partnerships with established online education institutions should be evaluated, to leverage their experience in the arena. The schedule should be completely rethought, if NYS schools are excused from the 180-day requirement.
The level of stress, particularly for SMS and SHS students, must be managed. Support for students who struggle while working remotely and the priority of overall mental wellness is an imperative component. We need to address social isolation, through strategies such as creating small pods of children to work together remotely. We also need a way to identify children who are at risk for mental illness, substance abuse, and suicide.”
Visit the school’s Restart Plan website for further information.
The district will hold a Zoom listening session on Tuesday night July 28 from 6-7 pm. Access it here: https://zoom.us/j/91268893200.