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Scarsdale School District Eases Covid Restrictions

auditoriumseatingAs promised, the Scarsdale School District has eased some of its Covid mitigation protocols - specifically those related to trips, parent visitors, perfomances/assemblies, and elementary school snack time.

At Monday’s board of education business meeting, Eric Rauschenbach, assistant superintendent for special education and student services, began his presentation on Covid-related matters by discussing the latest Covid stats from the district’s health and safety committee.

Although Westchester County has seen an uptick in Covid cases, reporting an average of 11 cases per 100,000 daily, Scarsdale is faring better. The district reports 39 total Covid cases (27 students/12 adults) and testing continues, with 3080 Covid tests yielding just one positive result. “That has been a very big bright spot in our testing program and it shows that (there has not been) an asymptomatic spread in the schools,” Rauschenbach said.

He then outlined the latest changes to the district’s Covid policies:

Trips
Day and field trips have been reinstated and will be conducted as usual. Students must remain masked when indoors, regardless of venue policies. Guidelines for eating meals remain the same, with outdoor dining preferred and/or six feet of social distancing indoors. Overnight trips also are permitted, assuming that students follow masking protocols indoors (except during mealtime and when in their hotel rooms). Students who participate in overnight trips must be vaccinated or provide negative PCR test results within 72 hours of departure, and roommate assignments will be documented for contract tracing purposes. The district still is prohibiting school-related international travel.

Parent Visitors
The administration continues to avoid mid to large-scale parent meetings and events in schools during the school day but individual parent-faculty meetings are permitted to take place indoors, assuming proper masking and social distancing protocols. Faculty at each school will determine which meetings are best held in person as opposed to remotely/virtually.

Parents now are permitted to assist with specific activities/programs within school buildings if they are vaccinated and follow masking protocols. However, the district still is restricting individual parent volunteers within classes (cupcake deliveries, birthdays, etc.), subject to further review/discussion later in the school year.

Performances/Assemblies
Student assemblies, concerts, performances, etc. may resume with audience capacity limited to 50 percent, and seating that includes spacing between households and three feet of space between individual students. Scarsdale students now also are permitted to participate in performances at other venues.

Students may be unmasked for music and drama dress rehearsals and actual performances only (students also may opt to wear masks if they wish). “That will increase a slight risk for quarantining, should somebody be positive, but we think the benefit (of) having a performance that is done unmasked and in traditional form is a benefit that kids - especially in the drama productions - really could use,“ he explained.

The district also will allow multi-school events, such as debate tournaments and model UN activities, with three feet of social distancing and 50 percent capacity. Food-related events still are being discouraged, but if part of the district’s core education mission, will be permitted with six feet of spacing between students when they’re eating.

Snack Time
The district currently is discussing resuming snacks during the school day and plans to reinstate snack sometime after the Thanksgiving holiday, although no specific date was provided. “We are working with teachers now to develop the rollout; we will be moving to a three-foot, less-than-10 minute snack in the elementary levels… We’ve looked at other school districts, we talked with our district physician, and believe that the risk is mitigated… due to our other procedures,” said Rauschenbach.

Vaccine Clinic Oversubscribed
The district hosted a vaccine clinic at the high school for students aged 5 to 11 on November 15 from 5:00 to 8:00 pm. The event, conducted with the assistance of White Plains Hospital, was oversubscribed; 200 appointments were scheduled, along with an additional 50 standby slots (as of midday Tuesday, it was unclear if WPH would be able to source additional vaccines for those on standby). The vaccination appointments were made available last Friday evening and all were filled by Sunday morning. Due to this positive response, the district is working with Westchester County, Scarsdale Volunteer Ambulance Corps, and White Plains Hospital to arrange a second clinic on site.

Mental Health Update
Rauschenbach also was pleased to report that students will have access to a full team of youth outreach workers from Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Service (SFCS). Staffing was a concern; SFCS had lost a number of staff members over the past few months but was able to fill those vacancies, and counselors now are in place at the middle and high schools. The district also has hired two additional clinical social workers on a contract basis to address increased mental health counseling needs at the high school. “... we want to assure that the continued high level of intervention can happen for students who are experiencing this increased mental health need,” he said.

To Mask/Test or Not to Mask/Test?
After Rauschenbach’s summary, several board members questioned whether students should be required to wear masks during performances and dress rehearsals, and noted inconsistent testing/vaccination requirements for those participating in sports.

Amber Yusef said, “I’m super excited to hear about the easing of some of these restrictions. One thing I was wondering about - (since) the performances are unmasked, is there any kind of testing required before the performance... or vaccination?” Rauschenbach responded, “No, at this point, we maintain distancing and masking during non-performance times, so the only time students would be unmasked is actually on stage during the performance.” Yusef also asked about distancing requirements, to which he replied, “On stage, there may be scenes where they are not; in setups for orchestra and band, that spacing is maintained.” She then questioned whether there would be similar changes for athletics, given that student athletes are being tested weekly or vaccinated. Rauschenbach reiterated that students are permitted to be unmasked only during dress rehearsals and performances, and added that the district plans to review its testing policy given Scarsdale’s results over the past five weeks.

Ron Schulhof continued the discussion, asking “Can we talk about the rationale… Why not require vaccinations or weekly testing? It’s been working; it seems to be reasonable.” Rauschenbach stated, “At this point, the performances happen sporadically throughout the year; they don’t fall neatly into the weekly testing program… we’re not sure who out of those kids have volunteered to do the testing program, and, in speaking with the doctor... it happens once and then it’s over rather than a full season of competition.” Shulhof replied, “We had an opportunity to promote vaccinations or safe testing with athletes; I think it was the right thing to do to keep everybody safe. I understand those logistical concerns; we can address them… there are certain times where you can have an unvaccinated or unmasked (student) which seems to go against our mitigation strategies. I would be in favor of us following what worked for athletics.”

Carl Finger and Jessica Resnick-Ault also questioned the rationale behind the decision and pointed out the seemingly inconsistent policies for student performers and athletes. Resnick-Ault stated, “It does seem inconsistent with our practices so far that there are going to be a number of performances… that will involve students… who have not had the opportunity to be vaccinated - if we’re talking about anyone in sixth grade and below… those all would become unmasked events.”

Acknowledging the concerns, Rauschenbach said that, if the board wanted to take a closer look at the policy, the district could revisit the issue. He also pointed out that the district was unable to require testing or vaccination for curricular activities, such as band or orchestra concerts, but may do so for extracurricular activities like athletics. To that, Finger suggested that the district mandate mask wearing for all performances to provide some measure of safety for students. He also stated, “Not to dictate... but we’re asking you to think about it.”

Rauschenbach promised a larger discussion about testing in general and whether the district would keep the mandate in place with regard to athletics. He also assured the board that all students always have the option to wear masks during any and/or all activities if they feel safer to do so.

* * *

Budget Season Kicks Off
Assistant Superintendent for Business and Facilities Stuart Mattey closed the books on the 2020-21 school year, reviewing revenues, expenditures and surplus/deficit information. Budgeted expenditures were $162,696,316; actual expenditures as of June 30, 2021 totaled $162,915,187. Despite this small deficit, the district realized significant savings in plant and capital improvements, teaching, transportation, interscholastic athletics, other employee benefits, and debt service largely due to reduced activities during the pandemic. The actual ending fund balance at the end of the fiscal year was $25,536,424 (a nearly $1 million decrease from the previous year), $6,648,395 of which was unassigned.

Now, Mattey will lead the 2022-23 budget process, beginning with the public forum held Wednesday morning, when Scarsdale community members were invited to provide their input on budget priorities and planning. The next important budget discussion will take place during the January 10 BOE meeting, when Mattey will present 2022-23 financial projections and 2022-23 budget factors/assumptions. As always, members of the public are urged to attend and contribute.

Scarsdale Middle School PTA Budget Statement

This statement ,regarding the Scarsdale Middle School budget ,was made at the budget study session on Wednesday November 17, 2021.

SMS PTA EC and Budget Study Comment on Scarsdale Middle School Budget Priorities

The SMS PTA Executive Committee and Budget Study Co-Chairs encourage the Board of Education to consider the following priorities for Scarsdale Middle School during the Board’s budget process: the renovation of technology classrooms, especially the renovation of the 6th grade classroom, which has evolved over the past four years; a full-time coding teacher in order to have a technology class taught five days per week; an update in the library furniture and space; and the creation and installation of flexible outdoor spaces, including a space that is potentially dry for eating lunch.

In addition, we would like to emphasize the continuing importance of strong mental health support at the Middle School level and recommend that the Board ensure that this need is met going into the 2022-23 school year.

The SMS PTA EC and Budget Study Chairs further encourage the Board to incorporate proactive and robust community engagement during the budget process to provide expected transparency and to request further elaboration and detailed information as needed so that the Board may adequately assess the needs of the Middle School building and community.

Sincerely,

The SMS PTA Executive Committee

Leah Dembitzer, President
Deborah Lichtenstein, President-Elect
Ophira Cukierman, Treasurer
Samantha Carter, Secretary
Yi Yang, VP Membership and Directory
Stephanie Klingsberg, VP Programming
Lori Harrison, VP Hospitality and School Initiatives

The SMS PTA Budget Study Co-Chairs

Julia Liu
Irena Turner

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