District Examines Restart Scenarios for the Re-Opening of Scarsdale Schools in September

ScenariosCurious about what will happen at the Scarsdale Schools in September? Will schools open with business as usual? Or will kids go to school part-time, or will eLearning become the norm?

At the Scarsdale Board of Education meeting on June 22 the administration outlined their approach to planning for the re-opening of school in whatever form it takes.

Eric Rauschenbach, Director of Special Education and Pupil Services, is leading the charge and has organized over 100 administrators, teachers and parents into a 26 member steering committee and ten subcommittees to analyze how school could run given four possible scenarios.

Dr. Hagerman explained, “All of this is predicated on the guidance from the State Department of Education or the Governor. School opening is Phase 4 in the state restart plan.” All schools will be required to submit Reopening Plans for approval by the state. They will be due sometime in July. Scarsdale will need to adapt to any guidance quickly but exercise local control to ensure student/staff safety and appropriate education. The NYS Regents have developed task forces that have begun to meet to come up with guidelines. Rauschenbach expects guidelines from the state by mid-July.

Rauschenbach explained that the situation is not ideal, and opened the discussion by setting expectations. The work is being done with the understanding that:

-No one will be happy
-It will not be business as usual
-Change will be constant
-Actual decisions cannot be made until the state guidance is received.

Last, the goal is to mitigate the risk of the virus, not eliminate risk altogether.

With these goals in mind, the district has launched a new initiative called, “Scarsdale Restart,” to explore all options for learning, and consider everything else including health, transportation, food, personnel and more that will be impacted by whatever route is ultimately chosen.

The committees are using design thinking to go through iterations of what reopening might look like, and develop a shared vision from the teachers, community and the students

The vision statement for the initiative is as follows:
“The Scarsdale Schools Restart efforts commit to providing an educational environment that is physically and emotionally safe; to establishing and nurturing connections within the full school community; and to fostering meaningful learning opportunities for each student regardless of the structure of schooling which takes place in the future.”


To achieve their goals the district has set up a steering committee and task forces to research and provide recommendations on the following:

Food Service
Human resources
Mental Health

Each of these task forces includes parents, faculty, staff, administrators and central office staff. Almost 100 people are involved. The PT Council assigned representatives who were elected to the PTA’s to serve on these committees.

According to the website, “The Steering Committee will task each of the groups to work through specific challenges and develop specific plans for implementing the health and safety restrictions, while also maximizing the ability to provide a school experience as close to normal as possible. Our groups will meet regularly throughout the summer to assure we are ready to open in September.”

A timeline has been set for June, July and August leading up to the opening of schools in September. One of the tasks for June was to develop a web presence for community information by the end of June. That task has been completed and you can view the “Scarsdale Restart” website here

The task forces will examine their defined area in light of the following four possible scenarios:

Scenario 1: Live instruction for all students:
This assumes full capacity with everyone in the building, but restrictions on large group activities. Groups will be no larger than a class. Groupings will be as static as possible and social distancing will be enforced during the school day. Questions: How does this impact busing if we can only use every other seat in every other row? We may need to spread out arrivals and departures.

Scenario 2: Hybrid Instruction (Social Distancing Paradigm)
In this scenario, the school would reopen with only 50% of the school population in the building at a time to reduce class density. When not in school, the other 50% will participate in virtual learning. The major factors to consider for this scenario are scheduling, synchronous vs. asynchronous learning, and teacher workload as teachers cannot be in two places at the same time. What technology will be required? What are the implications for childcare for Scarsdale families as well as teachers?

Scenario 3: Hybrid Instruction (Extreme Social Distancing)
This is similar to Scenario 2 but allows for groups no larger than 10 students to be at school together. Questions: How do we manage these groups? Scheduling, teacher workload and busing will be challenging.

Scenario 4: Schools Closed: Students participate in eLearning
This scenario allows for limited or no opportunity for in person learning. This is the most restrictive model, but the one with which the district has the most experience as eLearning was implemented from March to June, 2020. For this scenario, the district needs to consider parents’ roles and opportunities for teachers to plan and work together.

The district’s website provides a complete list of the assigned members of each of the committees here

Take a look at the site to learn more about planning for the restart of schools in September.

During the public comments portion of the meeting, several parents called in to comment on the restart plan. Marshall Kitain of 11 Butler Road had a lot to say. He said:

I’d like to talk about the restart information. The shared vision statement is on target in terms of the right goals. But the scenarios presented do not fulfill that vision and I am concerned that we are not creatively thinking about how to solve the problem of student density. If we fail to get creative than we are resigned to pick only between sub par options.”

I approach you tonight as the parent of an elementary school learner and the hybrid and full eLearning scenarios here do not and cannot fulfill objectives around nurturing connections or fostering meaningful learning opportunities. I can go through an enormous list of the problems and heartaches around Zoom school, but at its core, eLearning is a very poor substitute that leaves kids uninspired and demotivated. And even as I say those words I cannot begin to convey the sadness that I see in my daughter when she desperately wants to participate, but no, she is not called on because she shared something last week…. Last week. This is not the fault of individual teachers but it is heartbreaking to see at the youngest levels, heartbreaking to see your student become disinterested and unenthusiastic.

And speaking to the adults and the people in positions of authority, I recognize that you are being earnest, you are being thoughtful, you are preparing a detailed agenda, but it is not bold, it is not innovative. This is not a problem that can be solved with better training or a better curriculum. In our hearts we should know that there is no replacement for the magic of a real classroom for young students, and I think our students deserve that. So if we start from the place that our students deserve more than an online education I think we can find the strength to reject easy answers and focus on what matters. How do we get our kids back to school safely?

I would like to see this board address the community to tackle the real problem. How do we safely re-open schools on a real time basis? If physical capacity is the problem, let’s talk about that problem. How do we add outdoor classrooms? Let’s talk about tents. If that doesn’t work, let’s talk about restructuring the school day so that kids spend half a day inside the classroom and half a day in small groups somewhere else on the campus. Let’s talk about how we utilize aids in a different way to reduce density, to utilize specials differently.

All of these are infinitely better than solutions that alternate between online school and real school. I recognize that there are some students and teachers that are high risk, and that they may need distance learning as an option for a period of time. There should be an option to pair those students with these teachers for an online option.

As a society, this is not just a healthcare crisis. It is the biggest educational crisis in decades. As a parent and a taxpayer, I urge you to focus on what matters and not accept answers that fail your own vision statement. We do not need things like stadium lights. We need kids in school.

Also, we are talking about an issue that is enormously profound for all of our stakeholders and I challenge the idea that you have received sufficient parent and student engagement. Even right now you and I are not having a dialogue. I have been on the phone for almost 2.5 hours to make my point tonight and I am not going to get a response any time soon. I have to wait until item 16 on the agenda and even then I waited be recognized to respond. That’s unfair.

This process is an insult to the parents in the community who are beyond stretched right now and don’t have the time to devote to this like I do right now. So I urge you to hold a listening session as soon as possible and to not cherry pick voices and aggressively seek other voices. Without that, I fear this entire discussion is missing the forest for the trees. ELearning for young students was not a success. It may have been necessary and it may have been better than what other districts did. We can do better than online learning for young learners. I urge you to think creatively about how we can use all of our campuses, all of our resources to reduce density and get young kids back into the classroom.”

Claudine Gecel from Kent Road said, “Our family is involved in the healthcare part of this problem. Solutions have changed and will continue to change. People are complaining about Zoom learning. The opportunity for everyone to go back to school is better now than it was in March. It is way better. Most of the infectious disease doctors have better protocols. They are doing a dosing study for the inflammatory condition that affects children. We have a good hospital nearby. They triage the children well and they can immediately be transferred if they need better treatment. The point is that Zoom learning for most children is not regular school. I think there is a groundswell for regular school. If the school could step up and hire professional cleaners given the pandemic and we had the right masks, you could open the schools. We could be there. I don’t think people should be so negative. The healthcare is better and we could become cleaner."

Ada Carlucci of 258 Fox Meadow Road expressed concerns about the composition of the steering committee. She asked if medical professionals or infectious disease experts were on the committee. She said, there is concern about disinfection of the schools. How will the school deal with a second wave? She added, “We are wondering about the availability of PPE for children, which needs to be sized to fit. “

Mayra Kirkendall Rodriguez thanked the district for planning and thanked retiring Board members Scott Silberfein and Chris Morin for listening. She inquired which parents were selected to serve on these task forces and how they were chosen. She asked if parents from dual working families, single parents and those with children with special needs were chosen. She asked if they had a good level of cognizant diversity. She also asked who participated in the focus groups and if the results were published. She said many had challenges with eLearning. She asked about the potential joys of eLearning. She asked about their plans for improving math at the elementary school level and said there was not enough at that level. She asked if eLearning could be used to supplement the math and foreign language programs. At SMS she asked why students were limited to only romance languages and asked if they could take Mandarin, Arabic or Hebrew.