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School Year Opens with Orientations, Small Groups Sessions and Abbreviated Schedules

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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