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Parents Demand Changes to Hybrid Learning Plan in Scarsdale

megaphoneDespite social distancing rules that caused the Board of Education to meet in the high school auditorium, many parents showed up on Monday night October 5 to ask the board and administration to make changes to the hybrid learning schedule in force at the district.

Specifically parents were upset that Scarsdale’s teaching hours lagged behind all other districts and that Scarsdale was not offering live streaming. Parents asked for more hours of synchronous learning, more engaging asynchronous learning and more time in school. They requested that the district define the parameters to increase school hours or for a full return to school. They cited low infection rates in Scarsdale and Westchester and wanted to know just how low these numbers had to be for the district to provide more school for Scarsdale kids. Several speakers called on the members of the Board of Education to exercise oversight and represent the parents. Others expressed dismay that they receive no response from the Board or Administration when they speak at public meetings.

Here are comments from just a few of the speakers, some who said they had never attended a Board of Education meeting before.

Lisa Gans
Hi. My name is Lisa Gans and I live at 45 Harvest Drive. I have three boys, a junior in high school, a 7th grader at Scarsdale Middle School and a 4th grader at Quaker Ridge.

I’ve lived here for 14 years and this is the first time I am speaking to the Board of Education. I never really had any pressing concerns to address before, and I have a fear of public speaking, so I apologize in advance if my voice quivers.

I am actively involved in the community. I served twice on the executive committee of the PTA, the PT Counsel nominating committee, and in many other capacities. In addition, having three children in three different schools gives me a unique perspective for the issues currently facing our children’s education.

First and foremost, I would like to say thank you to the teachers who have gone above and beyond for our kids. I recognize that you are doing your job under very challenging circumstances and your sacrifices are appreciated and acknowledged.
I have not spoken up until now because I really wanted to give the restart plan a chance. But after seeing the way our plan has been implemented and looking at the plans of other similarly situated districts, I am convinced that we can do better.
I believe that there is an inadequate amount of live learning, both in person and remote, at the elementary school, middle school and high school.

Earlier today, the Board received a document that compares Scarsdale’s current education plan to 20 peer districts. As the chart shows, Scarsdale students are receiving considerably less in person and remote instruction than students in EVERY SINGLE one of those districts. This analysis did not cherry pick which districts to include. The fact is, Scarsdale students are receiving considerably less than any of our peer districts. Scarsdale is supposed to be a leader in education. How is this possible?

Our elementary schools are only in school for 2 hours a day. Other than specials such as art or music, those two hours a day are their only synchronous instruction for the day. Think about that for a second. Your learners who need it the most only have 10 hours of instruction per week. All of the similarly situated districts in the chart you received either have full-day elementary classes, some of which are five days per week, or a hybrid of in person and synchronous learning where they are live streamed into the classroom. Is two hours at the elementary level really the best that we could come up with? How can it be that Scarsdale is so far behind?

I have heard an explanation from you that the quality of teaching is more important than the quantity of teaching. But for my 4th grader, 2 hours a day is not working. No matter how good the teaching is, 2 hours of instruction per day is not enough.
The middle school and high school schedules are just as deficient. Part of this is because many other districts live stream from the classroom, which you seem unwilling to try, and part of this is because you have carved out an entire day on Wednesday dedicated to teacher development and planning which these other districts have not.

What is the rationale for not offering more live streaming, especially at the High School? Why do we have an entire day on Wednesday without any instructional learning?

Dr. Hagerman, in your October 4th email to a group of parents including myself, you wrote that Scarsdale’s current model of instruction “falls in line with neighboring and comparable districts.” Who are these districts? Because that chart you received today compared us to 20 of our peer districts and none of our schools come close. If you look at that spreadsheet, every single one of them has more synchronous learning than we do and nearly every one of them has some form of live streaming every day. And every other district has some form of instruction on Wednesdays.

At the September meeting, Eric Rauschenbach said that the first formal reassessment of instruction will happen on October 15th. Why are we waiting until October 15th? Our peer districts have already made changes to their plans. Taken literally, we are not even beginning our first review until October 15th. We should be evaluating changes now while our schools are still open and we still can.
I implore the Board of Education, to take a greater, more active role in deciding, amending and implementing any education plan. While decisions may be delegated to our administration, you, the Board are OUR representatives. There is widespread frustration with the education plan and you must step up and fill the void. Time is of the essence and I ask you to please provide answers to the community.
Thank you so much.

Michelle Sterling
Hello. My name is Michelle Sterling. I’ve been a Scarsdale resident for 15 years and have children in the middle and high schools.

I want to start out by saying that I really appreciate the in-person learning that has happened over the past 2 weeks of school. The Scarsdale teachers have once again shown that they are fantastic at in-person learning. I want to thank our teachers for their commitment, diligence and hard-work, and what I feel is their true commitment to our children and their education.

Along those lines, Id like clarity from the Administration around what the metrics are for increased in-person education for our students. We all know - and have had communications from the district already – about what will happen if there are COVID cases in school. However we have not received any metrics, plan, nothing in fact to my knowledge, about increasing schooling and how, when or under what circumstances that will occur. We have 18,000 residents in Scarsdale. For the past 2 months we have hovered between having 3 and 9 cases in total in Scarsdale. If we are not opening up a little more with these statistics, then my question is when will we? I would really like clarity on this.

Regarding Wednesdays, I just keep asking WHY. Why is there no school on Wednesdays. We have heard from the district on this, and frankly the oft repeated answer is so non-sensical that it is almost insulting to our community that we keep being given it. Please allow our teachers to teach 5 days/week. Please allow our children to learn from their teachers 5 days/week.

Regarding curriculum, in addition to the 20% automatic cut in curriculum which is happening due to having Wednesdays off, there seem to be other curriculum cuts happening, which make sense due to the gaps in synchronous learning time. Perhaps in certain classes it is ok, however I wonder how it will be handled in, for example, math and science. My daughter is taking biology this year – if she only covers ½ of the material, what ½ is in and what ½ is out? And what happens when she goes to take the AT or an AP? Im not sure how this is workable.

In addition to the above requests, what i also ask is this: please be forthright with us, and please communicate with us clearly and honestly. And for every request, please work on reasons to yes rather than all of the reasons to no. It’s always going to be harder to do things than to not do them. This is a difficult and challenging time - as the Administration has stated to us many times. This is something that we all know and are not in denial of. Yet how about we take this most difficult of situations and rise to it - maybe as we have never done before - and find some ways to yes, so that our children can get the best possible education under these circumstances. We have great kids who want to learn. We have great teachers who want to teach. Let’s please make this happen.

Stephanie Israel
Good Evening. My name is Stephanie Israel and I live at 64 Stratton Road. I have a fifth grader at Quaker Ridge and a 7th grader in the Middle School.

There is no doubt that the education that my children have received so far this year is mediocre at best, a small percentage of what they would normally learn and the lack of live instruction is setting them back educationally. I must say that asynchronous learning has been an abysmal failure in my household – my 5th grade son has melt downs on a daily basis and my 7th grade daughter is enjoying a Harry Potter marathon. So it pains me to see you all patting yourselves on the back at every board meeting for a job well done. You should be embarrassed, particularly when you compare what our “stellar” district has been able to deliver in comparison to many surrounding communities.

I would like to address this evening a serious shortfall of the Restart Committee and the Board – that is the failure to determine or to communicate concrete metrics that will allow for the reopening of schools on a greater basis.

Dr Hagerman stated on September 23 in his update that “our ultimate goal is to move toward more in person schooling as health metrics and state directives allow”. Furthermore, he stated that “our return to school on a more traditional schedule depends on several factors, many of which are out of this community’s control”.
The fact that the Board and the Restart Committee have not been able to communicate to its constituents the metric goals that we must reach is one of your biggest failures. These goals should have been determined last spring or this summer but it is ridiculous that we are now in October and they have not been communicated.

Furthermore, to use these health metrics and state directives as a cover for not opening on greater scale is a real dereliction of your duty. Considering the multitude of surrounding districts that are under the same state directives and have the same health concerns – and somehow are able to open on a greater basis – really makes me question your honesty. We as a community were not born yesterday and we deserve the truth. The rumor is that the dismal status of our live learning (either in person or via live streaming) is currently due the board bowing down to the unreasonable wishes of the teachers’ union. But we are dealing in rumor because you fail to be transparent. You are elected and hired by this community and you owe us some real answers. It is insulting that your answers to many questions are vague and non-answers. It is also insulting that we sit here at a meeting like this where you don’t answer questions. You honestly shouldn’t be allowed to leave this meeting until you fully explain to our community the metrics that the district will use to determine when our children can receive a will reactive a greater amount of live instruction. Additionally, you should provide the detailed reasons as to why our district is not able to live stream classes on a greater basis.

To specifically address metrics – it is unreasonable to require the eradication of the virus to return to school, as that likely will never happen. It is also unreasonable to require the existence of a vaccine – as that can take years of development and even longer for wide-spread usage. Proper metrics need to be based in science and reality and not in fear and be clear measurable statistics such as rates of positivity or current cases. Additionally, we need to use the metrics as they are today to make opening determinations for today and not the fear that at a later date they may be worse. We shouldn’t stop properly functioning today for potential what ifs at a later date.

So in sum, I want to know and deserve to know what is keeping my children from receiving a greater amount of live instruction, similar to what is delivered in neighboring districts. We should be doing the same or frankly better than many of these other districts. And currently now when we compare what we are doing with 20 other districts in the area – we are doing the least – which is reprehensible.

Following the meeting of the Board of Education, Israel sent the following:
I came out of the meeting more scared then I've ever been for the state of district. It became very clear at the meeting that the district has bargained away our children's education with the STA. It appears that they have agreed in their CBA that cohorts must remain and that widespread live streaming will not occur.

It also became clear that the possibility of any improvements will not come any time soon. One board member (Ron - the only one who seems to have the community's interest at heart) made the very good point that 10% of the school year is over. However the district has laid out a plan for analyzing any improvements that will take months. They will first start to review the status quo on the 15th of October. They then plan to ask for surveys and other feedback loops and then once all information is gathered will then present to the board and then discuss what if any changes or improvements can be made. They did not lay out a tight timeframe for making anything occur and in fact the loose process they shared sounded to me as it could be months before we see any possible changes.

A few other things that really stood out to me at the meeting:

1) Pam said that they have no plan and they do not know what they are doing tomorrow. The fact that the Board does not have a plan of action in place - one that could be modified appropriately based on virus unknowns - is such a dereliction of their duty. To not be able to provide any metrics to measure how the schools move forward -- this year, next year or into the future is shameful. It really made clear to me that the Scarsdale school system has no plan to educate my children on more than a 50% basis for likely this year and possibly longer. The fact that the board and administration do not see an issue with this is astounding.

2) Dr. Hagerman hardly spoke at the meeting and did not address the questions or concerns raised by the constituents present at the meeting. One of the few times he spoke he said that he recently spoke to a friend that is a superintendent in another district - and that district had just fully reopened. He chose to frame that reopening in a negative light and as a failure by saying his friend had six classes that had no teachers upon their reopening. Given the fact that districts on a daily basis provide 100's and possibly over a thousand classes - the fact that his friend's district had over 99% of their classes take place should have been presented as an amazing win. Dr Hagerman's perspective on that reopening very clearly demonstrates to me why our district's education offering to our students is so dismal. He view's our 50% education as a success. This leaves me speechless.

Parents in this community should be in an uproar. Our school administration has traded away our children's education to unreasonable demands by the STA and our Board does not represent the community's voice. I am not very familiar with school boards and local governance but from a quick read - below are the typical responsibilities of school boards. Our board is failing in every responsibility.

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