Friday, Oct 23rd

Last updateThu, 22 Oct 2020 2pm

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shs2On October 22, the Scarsdale School community learned of another Covid-19 case in the schools, causing more school closures.

On October 15, Quaker Ridge Elementary School closed for the day when two students reported being symptomatic after exposure to a Covid positive person. Subsequent testing revealed that the students were not positive, and the school re-opened the following day.

Then on Saturday October 17, following a PSAT test at Scarsdale High School, the district learned that an individual who administered the test had tested positive for the virus after proctoring the test in the school’s cafeteria. The 80 people in the room were ordered to quarantine for 14 days by the Westchester County Department of Health.

Now, just five days later, Scarsdale High School will shift to remote learning on Friday October 23 to allow an investigation by the Department of Health. Contact tracing is in process and anyone who has been in close contact with the individual will also have to quarantine for 14 days.

Here is the email from the district.

Dear Scarsdale Schools Community,

We learned this afternoon that an individual at Scarsdale High School has tested positive for Covid-19. Once we became aware of this, we immediately enacted our Confirmed Case Protocol. As per this protocol, all students and staff members who have been in close contact with the infected individual have been notified and will be in quarantine for 14 days from the point of last exposure. The Department of Health has been notified and has initiated an investigation and the contact tracing process. If you have not been contacted directly and told to quarantine, this means that you are not a close contact and are not directly impacted at this time. For reference, instructions for quarantine can be found here.

As per our protocol, Scarsdale High School will shift to remote learning tomorrow, Friday, October 23, in order to allow the Department of Health to investigate. All morning and afternoon classes in the hybrid schedule will meet virtually tomorrow according to that schedule. All sports and any other in-person activities are canceled for this afternoon (Thursday, October 22) and tomorrow (Friday, October 23). Athletic practices and contests planned for Saturday will continue as scheduled. At this time, we plan to open SHS on a regular, hybrid schedule on Monday as contact tracing should be completed and appropriate staff and students will be quarantined. We will not communicate further this week unless those plans should change or there is significant additional information to share.

Finally, it is important to note that one of our objectives is to determine if this case resulted from the transmission of the virus within the school setting, or from transmission outside the school setting. Doing so will better inform our decision-making process and assist us in minimizing the transmission of Covid-19. If you have any questions, please contact your school nurse or building administration.

Sincerely,

Dr. Thomas Hagerman, Superintendent of Schools

coronav(Updated at 2:25 PM) Quaker Ridge Elementary School in Scarsdale was closed on Thursday October 15 and moved to virtual learning after two students, who were previously quarantined, began experiencing mild symptoms. According to Eric Rauschenbach, Assistant Superintendent for Special Education and Student Services, “There are a number of staff and students on quarantine because of contact outside of school to a (COVID) positive person.” Apparently two of these students are experience symptoms and will be tested.

The school advised families who may have had direct contact with the two students via an email that was sent to parents with a child in one of the children’s classes or on the same school bus.

In a post on Facebook Alison Singer, Vice President of the Board of Education, said “If the students test positive, the Department of Health will commence contact tracing. Cohorting is a risk-mitigation strategy; it facilitates contract tracing.”

However, by 2:25 pm, the district informed parents that the two students had tested negative and school would resume the following day.

The email said, "Dear Families, As you know, this morning Quaker Ridge School went to a remote schedule due to students on quarantine experiencing symptoms. We have received confirmation that the students have tested negative (through a Rapid PCR test) for COVID-19. This is extremely happy news to us and to the family. I would like to thank them for the timeliness of their information and taking the health and safety of the community seriously! As prescribed by NYS guidance the family will continue the 14 day quarantine and we look forward to welcoming them back once that is completed."

Parents are questioning why the entire school needed to be closed, given that students are attending school in two cohorts, which should allow one cohort to be quarantined with the other still attending school. However, if the students were exposed to the COVID positive person at an after-school program with mixed cohorts, this strategy might not be effective.

Here is the first notification from the district:

Good Morning,

Early this morning, the District received information that two students currently in quarantine at Quaker Ridge School have woken up with mild symptoms. They are awaiting test results. In consultation with our District Physician, we have decided to place the Quaker Ridge School on remote instruction for Thursday, October 15th out of an abundance of caution. We expect to receive confirmation of COVID test results today and will communicate with the community about needed follow up. We apologize for the late notice, however, the District received this information this morning and needed to make decisions immediately.

Today, the District will work with the family, our school physician, and the Department of Health to confirm test results and plan next steps. This morning the school will contact the families who may have been in contact with the students so they can take precautionary steps while awaiting confirmation of the test results. Should test results come back positive the District will work with the Department of Health to immediately contact trace and inform affected families.

We thank the community for its continued willingness to provide the District with timely information in order to keep our community safe and healthy.

Eric K. Rauschenbach
Assistant Superintendent of Special Education and Student Services
Scarsdale Public Schools

legionellaAs if COVID did not pose enough of a challenge to the reopening of the Scarsdale Schools, now the district has announced that legionella bacteria, the cause of Legionnaires’ disease, has been found in the water at Scarsdale Middle School and the Quaker Ridge School. An email from the district says, “The bacteria can cause a form of pneumonia that can be severe. While found in drinking water, the disease may result by breathing in or aspirating small water droplets containing a pathogenic type of legionella bacteria.”

Testing at the school was conducted on September 4, but results were not reported until September 14. You can see the test results here: As a result, the district covered all water fountains and drinking stations with the exception of water stations that include UV filtration, that kills the pathogens. They will supply water bottles for drinking at both schools, and plan to replace all water fountains with UV filtration stations. According to an email from School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Hagerman, “District Food Services in the two affected schools will suspend the use of kitchen sinks at for food preparation until mitigation is complete.” It’s not clear how they can prepare food without water.

In order to eradicate the bacteria, the district plans to disinfect the system, flush the lines and retest. This work will be done at all seven schools.

According to Scarsdale resident and physician Darlene Lefrancois, “It is unfortunately Legionella pneumophilia, a highly pathologic strain, and per reports it was at two out of four sources at Quaker Ridge and five out of six at the Middle School, representing an extensive degree of small to moderate colonization.”

She continued, “I am glad to see they are planning on regular retesting going forward, also addressed in the Sept 17th briefing. I am dismayed they didn't deal with this issue before reopening the schools. Nobody needed this and it was foreseeable. As I had guessed I think the COVID closures of school in March and low flow of the water is a contributor. Given this testing was done as part of the reopening plan it's unfortunate this was not dealt with prior to actual reopening schools for instruction.”

Providing some background on the bacteria, LeFrancois said, “We have unfortunately had a number of cluster outbreaks of this disease during my tenure working as a physician in the Bronx. While there are a couple of select classes of antibiotics that can treat the disease (these do not include the B-lactam class e.g. penicillin), they are certainly not 100% effective. Mortality numbers overall are as high or even higher than for COVID-19. Immediate source control is essential to eliminate the risk and until that is achieved anyone in attendance or working at the school may be at risk of acquiring this serious infection from various water sources. Thankfully, as the briefing points out, there is no person to person spread. As an important aside, the clinical presentation can be similar to that of a typical pneumonia but is very often atypical (hence why Legionella pneumonia is considered an "atypical pneumonia"). Specifically, gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g diarrhea, vomiting) are very common and may be the predominant symptom at presentation. The community should be made aware of what to look for.”

An August 27, 2020 article in the NY Times alerted the public to the risk of legionella in schools that were shutdown since March. A district in Ohio found the bacteria in five of their schools and it was detected in four schools in a district in Pennsylvania.

In order to reopen and comply with safety procedures to mitigate the risk of COVID, the Scarsdale Schools had to take many measures to alter the configuration of classrooms, install hand sanitizers and signage, purchase PPE and draft rules, regulations and procedures for to govern school attendance. Facilities Director John Trenholm retired in July which may have further stressed the administration. Testing for legionella is not part of the district’s usual protocol. In an email to parents dated September 16, 2020 Dr. Hagerman explained, “Testing for legionella is not a requirement for schools and mitigation measures are not regulated. However, we decided to add this testing as part of our broader building restart plan based on the CDC recommendations outlined in the Guidance for Reopening Buildings After Prolonged Shutdown or Reduced Operation. Going forward, we will engage in regular legionella testing as part of our comprehensive environmental testing plan.” 

The CDC report warns about the risk of both mold and legionella in buildings that have been shutdown. It opens as follows:

“The temporary shutdown or reduced operation of a building and reductions in normal water use can create hazards for returning occupants. Two potential microbial hazards that should be considered prior to reopening after a period of building inactivity are mold and Legionella (the cause of Legionnaires’ disease). For mold, a “prolonged period” may be days, weeks, or months depending upon building-specific factors, season, and weather variables. For Legionella, a “prolonged period” may be weeks or months depending on plumbing-specific factors, disinfectant residuals, water heater temperature set points, water usage patterns, and preexisting Legionella colonization.”

We’re not sure if the district conducted air quality reports to test for the presence of mold before the opening of school. For now, we don’t see these results posted on the district website, but do know that the district committed to annual testing of both air and water quality. Here is the link to the facilities page on the district website. 

Regarding legionella, in a memo to parents dated September 15, Dr. Hagerman said, “We wish this communication wasn’t regarding yet another challenge to overcome, but we would rather know and be able to complete a course of mitigation than the alternative. These are challenging times indeed, and we thank you for your support as we navigate this unusual school year.”

boredstudentThough the Scarsdale School District claims to set standards for educational excellence, on one measure it appears that they are falling behind. A group of Scarsdale parents, with children at all grade levels, did some research to compare the number of hours of synchronous learning offered in the Scarsdale Schools to 20 other area districts. 

The results were surprising: The group found that of the 20 districts analyzed, Scarsdale has less instructional hours in all age ranges than every other district.

Scarsdale is providing 12 to 14 hours per week for elementary school students and 17 hours a week for students in middle school and high school. At the top of the range are Great Neck North and South with 24 hours of instructional time for elementary school students and 30 hours a week for those in middle and high school. In Westchester, Irvington is offering 22 hours per week for elementary school students and 30 hours for middle and high school students. In Chappaqua, elementary and middle school students attend school for full days on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Fridays, with a half day on Wednesdays.

The Scarsdale School administration defends the schedule saying that limitations on space due to NYS social distancing requirements are to blame for the curtailed school days. However at the elementary level, some districts have employed creative solutions like installing plexiglass shields to permit more children to be in class together.

At the upper levels, other districts are using livestreaming or Google Meet to allow those at home to follow their classes. In Scarsdale, the high school cohorts are split into A and B groups, with the same lesson being taught on alternating days. This means that in many subject areas, only half the curriculum will be covered over the course of the year. Furthermore, Wednesdays have been set aside for teacher planning and professional developent, specials and tutorials. There is no sychronous learning on Wednesdays, cutting llive teaching by another 20%.

As to why Scarsdale is not livestreaming classes, Assistant Superintendent Andrew Patrick explained that teachers are just getting acclimated to the hybrid schedule and reporting that teaching to small cohorts is working. The district is also concerned about requiring too much screen time for students. He also explained that any change to the schedule would require lengthy collective bargaining negotiations with the teachers union (STA).

At a Board of Education meeting on October 5, School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Hagerman responded to the analysis telling parents that it might not paint the complete picture. He said he confers with area superintendents on a daily basis and the information that is written does not reflect what might be happening on the ground. He reports that some of these districts began school later than Scarsdale and have had to close for a day or two due to COVID cases. In addition, districts are having trouble staffing in-person classes and teachers are often absent.

Here is a copy of the parents’ letter that was sent to the administration and the Board of Education just prior to the October 5 meeting.

Dear Board and Administration,

I am attaching a chart comparing Scarsdale School District’s instructional time to other peer districts. This chart was produced by a group of parents who reached out to local schools to collect information about their hybrid plans, with a focus on ‘synchronous’ learning time. Notes were taken and included to flush out some details, hours are all estimates. It is intended as a snapshot only.

We do not draw conclusions, nor do we have recommendations for educational plans based on this small sliver of information.

But we notice two things that we wish to share:

1) Of the 20 other districts reviewed, Scarsdale has less instructional time in all age ranges than every other district. We are at the bottom.

2) Most/all other districts use some sort of live-streaming technology for the upper grades to support learning during this crisis with most live-streaming into the classroom.

Anecdotally, there are a number of other districts who have already made adjustments to plans, keeping the promise of a dynamic program. With so much uncertainty on the horizon, this is an important aspect of life today and we want to support our district to be flexible to improvement for student learning.

We realize that COVID-19 could require us to quickly pivot to all remote at any time, so while numbers are still on the low side should we be attentive to options now for more instruction?

We are sharing this info with others because we find parents and community members like to make up their own minds, review data for themselves.

Thank you so much in advance for taking the time to review this analysis.

Best,

Lisa Gans
Diane Greenwald
Debbie Hochberg
Elizabeth Hoexter
Sarah Hopkins
Michael Kahan
Tina Lin
Mimi Rocah
Stacey Schutzer
Michelle Sterling
Mauri Zemachson

See the entire chart here:

devicesStudents line up to receive devices at the middle school. Photo credit: Jon MarkSo how is this first week of school going for Scarsdale students and parents? From what we heard, the short answer is, it’s complicated.

Rather than go into full swing this week, the district has organized a series of virtual meetings, smaller in-person meetings and orientation for students of all grades to permit them to see their transformed schools, meet their teachers and learn about all the new safety protocols in place to safeguard the themselves and their learning environment.

At the elementary school level students are having virtual orientations with their entire class where they meet the teacher and the aids. Using a camera, they are being shown around their classroom so they will know what to expect when they start to attend in person. Also this week, each student and parent will have an individual virtual meeting with their teacher. And next week, before launching into the full hybrid schedule when half the class will attend in the morning and half in the afternoon, smaller groups of 50% of each cohort will go to school to familiarize themselves with the routine. On Thursday the 17th, the regular schedule will launch.

At the middle school, students lined up to receive their devices yesterday. The seventh and eighth graders will attend orientation this week followed by separate sessions for sixth graders. Ultimately students will attend school in person for two days per week, either Mondays and Thursdays or Tuesdays and Fridays.

At the high school, students will have only two mornings per week in school, with virtual classes in the afternoon. The entire school was invited to a virtual webinar on September 9. Initially, since attendance on the Zoom was capped at 1,000 people, some students had trouble getting on the call, but this was corrected. This week all tenth through twelfth graders went to school for a one hour orientation in their homerooms. The ninth grade will have their own orientation day on Friday September 11.

Students who choose all virtual learning, will see their classes via Zoom, while the actual class is in attendance. It’s not clear how well those at home will be able to participate while their classmates are present in the classroom.

Before entering the school each day, students will need to submit a health survey that they will have to print out and complete before going to school. The morning session will extend from 8:10 am to 12:05 pm and students will have to leave the building quickly and get home to attend their afternoon classes. Students may not be inside the school for more than 10 minutes before the start of school, and must leave within 10 minutes of their last class.

Even though in school time is so limited, some students have “free” periods in their morning schedules and there are clear instructions about where in the school they can be during that time.

Next week each cohort will go in one morning for class and beginning on September 21, the two morning a week schedule will start.

We spoke to parents with kids at all grade levels and heard about their concerns and how they were adjusting.

A parent of a kindergartner noted that a parent will pretty much be a partner in their child’s education. When kids are on Zoom, a parent will need to help them sign on to school, monitor their behavior while they watch and help them to complete any at home assignments.

Another elementary school mother was concerned about her child’s schedule to attend school in the afternoons. She said, “My own concerns about the PM cohort for my 5th grader include the fact that she won't be starting school until 12:45 so may remain unmotivated in the mornings. I think for a lot of kids, it is easier to get up and go to school, have your lessons and then go home to do asynchronous work.”

Parents were also worried about the district’s plans to sanitize the classrooms with a fogging machine between the morning and afternoon sessions. There were concerns that the fogging chemicals could cause respiratory issues. In response, the district h changed that protocol and will instead spray high touch surfaces with a green bio-based product called concrobium to clean and disinfect.

Many parents and students have been scrambling to assemble all the information they need. One mom said, “I do feel like the district has stepped up their communications, but I now feel like I am swimming in emails. I wish there was one succinct place to get all info instead of some info hidden deep in one email and other info hidden deep in a different email. While I understand, it has also been somewhat frustrating to have schedules shared so last minute.”

A mom of high school students said she was doing her best to stay positive and be grateful for what the school is offering, but she said, “it seems like this is really going to be a challenging year. I truly see parents trying hard not to freak out.”

Some parents were still reflecting on missteps in the planning process this summer and having trouble trusting in the schools. A readers said, “I think a big part of why many were so up in arms is because of the lack of transparency and that the district had no plans to share "reopening plans" with parents before submitting them to the state. The district shared the plan with teachers to assure their buy-in, which was great, but didn't plan to also share it with parents before submitting it, making parents feel like they weren't equal stakeholders. It is only my opinion, but I think if the district would have shared the plan with teachers and parents alike and explained their research and reasoning for the schedules, there would have still been a lot of unhappy people, but maybe not such an uproar.”

And the mother of a middle school and a high school student who is still reeling from the debacle this summer said, “The teachers are angry to be back in school, the parents are angry that the kids have so little school, and we are all angry about the e-learning failures in the spring and have absolutely no faith in the administration that they will do any better this year. “

Despite some complaints, it appears that overall parents realize that we are in unusual times navigating unchartered waters. Teachers who are accustomed to standing in front of a classroom of kids are now trying to keep the attention of 25 kids at home, over technology that is sometimes difficult to use. Administrators have implemented untested protocols, complex schedules and myriad rules and regulations, all in just a few weeks. No one knows whether all of these procedures will be able to combat the spread of a relentless virus and permit the district to remain open, at least partially, for the foreseeable future.

As one parent said, “Most people I speak with understand the extensive amount of work it is taking to reopen schools and appreciate everyone's effort to do so.”

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