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School Board Reviews Complex Restart Plans for Fall 2020

staffing2020Staffing is Up and Enrollment is Down at the Start the 2020 School Year in Scarsdale.Given all the work that is now being done to start the school year, the Scarsdale Board of Education is now meeting twice a month rather than once. They held their last virtual meeting on Monday evening September 1 and announced their next meeting would be held in person on September 14, 2020. Dr. Hagerman announced that the staff and faculty convocation, customarily a joyous gathering to launch the school year, will be held virtually this year on September 2, 2020.

The beginning of the school year will be phased in with orientation for elementary school students on the week of September 10 and the full hybrid plan beginning on September 17. Virtual learners will follow a similar schedule. At the middle school, are a series of virtual and in-person orientations beginning on September 10 and extending through September 18, 2020. At the high school, ninth graders begin with a webinar on September 8, a virtual orientation on September 9 and an in-person orientation on September 11. Hybrid learning is phased in for all grades from September 14 – 18.

With complex plans in the works, the meeting covered progress on the district’s restart plan, enrollment, staffing, an update on athletics and facilities.

Health and Safety

Discussing the Scarsdale Schools Covid-19 Family District Compact which asks parents and children to follow safety protocols, Dr. Hagerman said that it has been signed by half of Scarsdale families. Though it is not required for attendance the district feels that it’s important to get families’ commitment to guidelines.

The district is working with a group of resident physicians who are mothers who are sharing their medical expertise. To date, they have created two guides that are posted online. One is an educational guide to the use of face masks, and the other is guidelines for a safe return to school.

Dr. Hagerman said that the district is collaborating with White Plains Hospital on streamlining testing and helping families to find out how they can access testing.

Eric Rauschenbach offered a review of the proceedings of the Restart Steering Committee including the parent compact, testing availability, along with closure protocols. He mentioned three reasons for the possible closure of school once it opens, including an order from the Governor, staffing shortages or excessive heat. He explained that the district’s cooling plan allows for school to remain in session during days when temperatures rise above 90 degrees by grouping students in large common spaces that are air conditioned. However, due to the distancing requirements, it would no longer be possible to use these spaces for that purpose, and in the event it gets too hot, school might have to be cancelled.

Enrollment and Staffing

Assistant Superintendent Andrew Patrick explained that student enrollment is lower than projected and staffing is higher than budgeted. The district budgeted for 4,743 students but will begin the year with 4,657. They planned for 460.8 teachers but will begin the year with 465. In terms of total staff, the district budgeted for 630 but now have 644 employees.

Why the increase in staff? Patrick explained that kindergarten enrollment fell short of the demographers projections, and recently some kindergarten and first grade students have withdrawn from school for the year. However in other grades, students entered and caused class sections to break, resulting in 108 rather than 102 sections. This includes two virtual class sections in each elementary school grade and three virtual sections in first grade. Middle School and High School student enrollment and staffing were on target with the budget.

New cleaning and disinfecting protocols which require work both before and after school and in between class sessions necessitated the hiring of 9.5 full time employees to the custodial staff.

Reviewing the class distributions which showed some virtual classes with 22 or 23 students, Board member Amber Yusuf asked Patrick, “Some of the virtual elementary classes seem pretty full - how will a student be placed in a virtual class if they decide to move from hybrid? Patrick responded, “We have space in some of these classes, but we do exceed class sizes limits during the year – if we have students move in we sometimes make slightly larger classes. I am not sure exactly what we would do – we could hire an additional teacher or set up a co-taught class. The virtual classes still follow the am/pm model, so the teacher is only working with half of the students at a time. Even if we go all remote, there will still be the am/pm model as the research shows that small class sizes are better.

Later in the meeting Patrick discussed requests from teachers for accommodations. He said, “We heard many requests via the Americans with Disabilities Act. We have received 91 requests – the vast majority are from teachers. They have come from all 7 buildings. We granted 13 remote accommodations for work from home and provided enhanced PPE.” He noted that the district may continue to receive requests, saying, “There is no time limit for requesting an accommodation – it is the law.”

He added, “We do have employees struggling with childcare because the childcare is not open or their own children have a hybrid schedule. They are working hard to find arrangements.” He said that staffing could be a challenge throughout the year, noting, “Teachers can take intermittent leave – even for an hour during the school day.”

Facilities

Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey said, “We are getting our buildings ready.” He said preventative maintenance and testing were being done on HVA systems and the fire alarms. The district is installing signage throughout the buildings for traffic flow and hand washing hand sanitizing stations are being installed at building entries, in classrooms and doorways. They are replacing hand air dryers with paper towel dispensers and blocking off urinals for social distancing. Classrooms are being laid out in accordance with enrollment and to ensure physical distancing.

Mattey explained new cleaning protocols which call for high touch surfaces to be cleaned throughout the day and bathrooms to be disinfected in the middle and the end of each day. The buses will be cleaned after each run and disinfected at the end of each day. Drivers are being trained on proper disinfection.

He responded to parents concerns about the midday cleaning between cohorts and said, “The CDC and the school physician recommend that that disinfection occur. We use green, bio-based products that also disinfect. Cleaning protocols are posted online. They will use fogging or atomizing between the am and pm sessions. This allows product to be applied to all areas. It’s the most expedient. Dense fog drops within seconds.”

Mattey reviewed ventilation work, saying, “The ventilation plan focuses on introducing as much fresh air as possible, filtration and exhausting building air.”

He explained, “Physical distancing and wearing of masks are the main mitigating factors and ventilation is third.” “Opening the windows is very effective” and the district will “bypass their energy recovery systems to introduce fresh air.” Increasing outdoor air ventilation will change the amount of air the systems bring inside. They will run the ventilations systems for two to three hours after the students leave the building as well. The district is installing MERV 13 filters wherever possible and using MERV 8 filters where MERV 13 filters cannot be used.

The newer ventilation systems installed at Fox Meadow, Edgewood and Heathcote are bringing in 100% fresh air and therefor do not require filters. The district has also ordered portable HEPA units to be used where filters cannot be installed.

Mattey also discussed environmental testing. He said, “We are on top of our water testing. All levels have come back at acceptable levels. Drinking, cooking, plumbing water has been tested. We are flushing hot water in all of our sinks. We are flushing all of our systems.”

Reporting on facilities work, Mattey provided an update on the renovation at Greenacres School saying, “it is almost completed…. the building looks amazing, bright and welcoming. Students and teachers will be super excited about the building. There is new lighting, cabinetry and a totally different feel. The learning commons is an amazing space that the community will enjoy. It is only rivaled by the learning commons at the high school. We’re cleaning out spaces, moving contractors equipment out, installing fixtures, and waiting for things to arrive.” He added, “Though the library, and the basement and supply closets will still need work, there will be no construction when students are in the building.”

Discussing Greenacres, Dr. Hagerman said, “Having lived through all of the difficult discussion about Greenacres, it is such a transformation. It is so light and bright and has a cool modern Scandanavian feel. It has changed the character of the school. And all the concerns about BBS … they provided all these small touches that made it an amazing remodel. It will be the gem of this district and a model for what elementary buildings should look like.”

Continuing, Hagerman said, “I have to acknowledge the teachers and the Sharons (Principal and Teacher in Charge) for picking out the colors and tiles. There are moments of drama throughout the building that are quite spectacular. Thank you to BBS and the faculty. It is a magnificent remodel. I am crestfallen that everyone will not get to see it at the opening.”

Athletics

Athletic Director Ray Pappalardi provided an update on where the school stands with competitive sports. Governor Cuomo issued guidelines on August 26 that permit “lower- and moderate-risk sports (e.g., tennis, soccer, cross country, field hockey, and swimming) to begin to practice and play on September 21. Travel for sports is prohibited until October 19, 2020. Higher-risk sports (e.g., football, wrestling, rugby, hockey, and volleyball) may practice, effective September 21, 2020, but not play until authorized at a later date, but no later than December 31, 2020… Practices are limited to individual or group, no- to low-contact training (e.g., skills development) whereby contact between players may only be incidental and any activities that are specifically designed to promote close physical contact are prohibited.”

Pappardi explained that, “The interscholastic program is part of our academic program, and we are “looking to contribute to the maturation of students,” but, “competition might not be a big part of the program this fall …..we want to model behavior by following all guidelines.”

Though tennis, soccer, cross country, field hockey, and swimming are permitted on September 21, Pappalardi said that holding tryouts and forming teams would compromise the cohort system and could increase the risk of the spread of the virus for the entire school population.

He said, “Athletic cohorts don’t have to be the same as academic cohorts. If there were tryouts – students on the A day could only try out on an A day and students in the B cohort on a B day. If the full team was selected, it would expand the practice to more cohorts. … It would compromise the entire cohort system and could send the whole school into quarantine.”

He concluded, “We will have to decide whether to start on September 21, 2020 or wait until January to begin.”

Public Comments

During public comments Sharon Chesler of Brewster Road asked for more information about how teacher aids will work in the classrooms. About kindergartners, she said, “How are we prioritizing those littlest learners – right now everything is equal and I believe our kindergartners need more of an assist.”
She also asked if the district could test waste water to see if there were COVID carriers in the schools as some colleges are doing. She requested that the district emails include links to the appropriate restart pages in every update. About the cohorts she said, “I have a kindergartner and a second grader – who will both attend the PM sessions. But other families do not have this arrangement. So you are exposing more people if all families are not together?”

Deepah Sehgal of Aspen Road said, “Both my kids will do remote learning. Regarding the specials, who will run them for the virtual cohort? What happens if more kids move to virtual since the classes are already large? Are there aids in the virtual model?”

Jennifer Zola of Carstensan Road spoke on behalf of Scarsdale Youth Soccer. She requested that fields be made available for children in grades eight and below to play. She said, “We request the school board opens fields for ISO activities. Scheduling is complicated because we don’t know anything about the availability of the fields. Though you have a lot to do, we hope you can provide interim access. I am hopeful that this can be considered in the next week or so.”

Mayra Kirkendall Rodriguez asked for details about changes in the curriculum and what will be curtailed. She said, “What metrics will we use to determine if students are receiving a competitive education?”

Rachana Singh said, “I implore the board to publish more details about changes to the curriculum, more details would be welcome”. She asked for more parent education and links to supplemental fact sheets. She said, “I want to commend Eric (Rauschenbach) for holding a productive zoom for those with students in special education.”

Jyoti Ruta of Tunstall Road said, “I am concerned that students that are remote will not have the same chance to learn as those in the hybrid program. The teachers will be busy with the students in the classroom. I feel like the first few weeks of school are when relationships are formed. If remote teachers cannot see or hear, they may be frustrated with these students. I am concerned about the added frustration for remote students. I think remote students could be on unequal footing. Can classes be recorded so that students have equal access. I feel like the hybrid and remote model creates huge inequalities.”

Responding to a few of the questions, Andrew Patrick said, “We are making aide assignments now. We will have as many in the classrooms as possible. We will have to work out the details as working at a distance is new. They can help with record keeping and homework as well. Virtual classes will also have aides.”

Dr. Hagerman addressed the kindergarten questions, saying, “We are fully committed to our youngest learners.” About cohort placements he said, “ it is impossible to match cohorts with other families but we have done it within families.”

Stuart Mattey addressed safety protocols saying, “We are mitigating risk with masks, social distancing and disinfecting. The district does not have the capacity to analyze waste water.”

About virtual learners, Edgar McIntosh said, “Specials for virtual students will be the same as the hybrid students. Virtual teachers are looking forward to reaching out to their students.”

Watch the full meeting here:

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