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Pressure Mounts for a Full Return to School in Scarsdale

GreenacresLibraryPressure is mounting from Scarsdale parents for a return to full time school for their kids. They are concerned about their children’s mental health, loss of motivation, isolation and fears that their kids are falling behind in their education. And with new information out that shows that COVID does not appear to be spreading in school, they went to know why Scarsdale Schools cannot re-open for full time learning. They cite falling COVID-19 infection rates in the community and vaccinations for at least a portion of the faculty and staff that should make it safer to come back to school.

At previous Board of Education meetings, the Scarsdale Schools administration said they would not revisit the current hybrid school schedule until March. But events in recent weeks may be causing them to re-examine that decision. Residents have become more vocal and are reaching beyond the Board of Education. They are appealing to local, county and state authorities, signing petitions and attending rallies. Frustrated by the reaction they are receiving from the school administration and the Board of Education they are seeking to reopen schools through other means.

County Executive George Latimer

At a Scarsdale Rotary Club meeting on January 26, a parent called in to ask County Executive George Latimer for his help to re-open schools. At the time, Latimer said he did not know the Scarsdale Schools Superintendent and later said that decisions surrounding the schools were in the hands of the state.

Rally in White Plains

A Westchester Group has organized a protest at Renaissance Plaza at 200 Main Street in White Plains for Thursday February 4 at 3:30 pm called the “Open Our Schools Rally.”

Petition

In Scarsdale, kindergarten through second grade students are now in school full time, while third through fifth graders attend for half days. A group of parents is now circulating a petition to have third graders go back to school full time.

Attendance at Scarsdale High School

Last week, Scarsdale High School released a three minute video hosted by school principal Ken Bonamo and student leaders encouraging high school students to attend school -- that is to go to school for the two mornings a week they are currently scheduled. In recent weeks, attendance has been flagging and the school issued a survey to determine whether students would opt for in-school or remote learning for the third quarter. The results showed that only 50% of students said they would come in and caused some parents to ask why those who do want to go to school cannot attend full time.

Full time School in Rye City

On February 2, 2021 the Rye City Schools announced that the entire district, grades K-12 would return to full time school in March, with a remote option in place for any students who choose to learn at home.

Why? According to a presentation at the Rye City Board of Education meeting:

-on Tuesday January 26, the CDC released a report in support of schools reopening with proper mitigation in place.

-on Wednesday January 27, Governor Cuomo said in an interview on CNN that schools may reopen and that localities have the authority to make the decision to do so.

-on January 5, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated their school guidance based on data and the latest research recommending 3-6 foot social distancing.

-Research from the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard led to updated recommendations for schools with a focus on air quality rather than surface cleaning as the latest research clearly shows that surface transmission of COVID-19 is minimal.

The Harrison School District quickly followed Rye and on February 3, 2021 the superintendent announced a phased return to school for all grades in April. The district cited vaccinations for faculty and staff, weekly COVID testing for 10% of the school population and the installation of air filtration technology as “tools to help ensure the safe return of students.”

In Westport, CT, kids in grades K-8 returned to school this week with the goal of opening up the high school to all students soon.

In other news, Governor Cuomo relaxed restrictions on indoor weddings and will allow parties of up to 150 people provided guests are tested for COVID-19 as of March 15, 2021.

Scarsdale Schools and Social Distancing

The Scarsdale Schools administration had originally insisted that there was not enough room to have all students attend school and remain six feet apart. However, New York State guidelines currently allow for either six feet of space between students or physical barriers for those more closely spaced. They say, “Specifically, appropriate social distancing means six feet of space in all directions between individuals or use of appropriate physical barriers between individuals that do not adversely affect air flow, heating, cooling, or ventilation, or otherwise present a health or safety risk. If used, physical barriers must be put in place in accordance with United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines, and may include strip curtains, cubicle walls, code compliant materials, or other impermeable divider or partition.”

Therefore, as proponents of in-school learning have been arguing, if there is not adequate space to keep everyone six feet apart, plexiglass can be used.

We reached out to Scarsdale’s Assistant. Superintendent Eric Rauschenbach who heads the Restart Committee to find out if the district is reconsidering their plans. Has the district looked into purchasing plexiglass dividers? With the high school only half occupied, can high school students choose to return full time?

Rauschenbach indicated that the administration is considering the new information and will provide an update at the next Board of Education meeting on Monday February 8, 2021.

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