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book discussionEverything is not okay, and according to author Meghan Divine, it’s important to acknowledge upheavals, losses and grief.

On July 9, 2020, Judi Townsend, James Genovaand Lauren Pomerantz from the Scarsdale Safe Coalition and Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Service held a discussion via Zoom about Meghan Divine’s book "It’s OK That You’re Not OK." Eighteen people, including the hosts, were present at the meeting. The general tenor was relaxed yet somber, as people let their guards down and openly revealed the struggles they are facing due to the pandemic. The conversation revolved around coping with loss, specifically ambiguous losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although reading the book was not required for attending the discussion, many participants applied their knowledge from it when sharing their thoughts.

The discussion was split into three sections. The first involved recognizing the difference between the grief experienced from the loss of a loved one, and that from the ambiguous losses of the pandemic. Participants compiled a list of pandemic-related ambiguous losses, which included loss of structure and routine, missing out on important events, and the loss of a sense of safety. The professionals from SFCS stressed that people are not used to dealing with ambiguous losses like these. One of the participants, who will remain anonymous, noted that she constantly reminds her kids “I have never done a pandemic before. I might mess up a couple of times.”

The group realized that this is the first moment within their lifetimes that everyone is experiencing together, unlike past historical events such as 9/11, which affected people to different extents. The participants felt that everyone should acknowledge that these are tough times and it’s okay that every day isn’t going to be enjoyable and smooth. They agreed that people are now open to the idea of acknowledging the negative aspects of their daily life, and conversations feel more heartfelt and honest than ever before.

The group also discussed the silver linings of the pandemic, such as having time to focus on a new hobby, or having virtual get-togethers that may not have been possible in-person. Although Meghan Drive writes that there are no such things as silver linings, arguing that they invalidate someone’s suffering, the participants felt otherwise.

The next segment of the discussion focused on the way our culture deals with grief, viewing it in a critical manner. Many participants described the helpless feeling of watching their friends and loved ones grieve and being unable to fully help them or understand their pain. They felt they were never taught how to handle difficult situations, and how to properly help their close friends and family when they are grieving. Since grieving itself is often stigmatized, and mourners are expected to remain composed, they end up recovering from the distress of grief, but not the grief itself. In terms of the pandemic, participants agreed that it is harder to deal with the grief of the pandemic when the community is divided. When there is controversy, this time feels much more dire.

The end of the conversation connected back to the book. The professionals moderating the discussion posed the following question: “Does the book give permission to grieve loss and come out from it as a different person?” The participants agreed it is often difficult to get full closure from a loss, and due to the uncertainty of the current times, people are experiencing anxiety from the possibility of future losses.

The discussion lasted a full hour, and the professionals from the Scarsdale Safe Coalition and Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Service successfully moderated an engaging conversation. Participants surely left with more insight on the pandemic than they had before they attended. They felt that Meghan Divine’s It’s OK That You’re Not OK feels more relavent right now, and that the discussion was an important reminder that it’s normal to feel anxious and frustrated during these uncertain times. The group consensus was that it is important to accept other’s concerns and apprehensions in order to be united as a community.

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.

latimer(Updated June 18, 2020) Can we let down our guard about transmitting the virus? How many cases are there in Scarsdale and Westchester and how many new infections?

As of Wednesday June 17, County Executive George Latimer reported that social distancing efforts had been effective and that the County overall has seen a dramatic decrease in the number of new infections and fatalities. He reported that the county has now tested over 212,982 people, or 21.3% of the population. At a press conference held in Larchmont on June 17, he reported that over 3,000 people were tested on June 16 and only 17 were positive, a dramatic decrease in the infection rate. Latimer says there were two fatalities due to COVID on June 16.

Overall the County Executive is pleased with Westchester’s progress, but still cautious about lifting the enforcement of measures to stop the spread of the virus. He was sporting a new haircut and reported that he was happy to return to his church.

Here are the numbers as of Monday June 15:

The June 16 statistics show that in Scarsdale, there were 3 active cases and no new cases in the last 24 hours.

In Westchester County overall there were 792 active cases and 36 new cases in the last 24 hours.

There are about 100 patients hospitalized for COVID in the county.

Latimer said, “All of the sacrifices we made got us to fewer cases, new infections and deaths.” He warned, “If we turn and go the other way, we’re opening ourselves to difficulties.”


GradBalloonsThough many had doubts about the graduation for the Class of 2020 during the COVID epidemic, a first-ever, gleeful graduation car parade proved that there are many great ways to celebrate four years at Scarsdale High School.

Since social distancing rules prevented the traditional graduation ceremony on Dean Field, a Senior Events Committee came up with a month full of fun events for June, culminating in the car parade on Tuesday June 23 and diploma ceremony planned for Friday June 26.

The days events began with a moving virtual graduation ceremony that the entire community was invited to view. Watch it here:

Following the virtual graduation ceremony which was livestreamed at 2:30 pm, students and their families lined up in cars to drive through the high school lot where they were greeted by cheering teachers, deans and administrators. A special parade soundtrack was broadcast on The Peak. Cars were decorated with hand painted greetings, custom made signs, decked out with balloons and streamers, trailing cans, and blaring music to celebrate the grads. There were jeeps, convertibles, pick-up trucks and many grads popped up through their sunroofs to greet the faculty.

Moms, dads, sisters, brothers and grandparents were on board too, making for a party in motion. Some wore masks and kept their windows rolled up, while others hung out of windows and car roofs or even perched in the back of a truck.


Students were grouped by deans and assigned a start time to drive into the gravel lot on Brewster Road and proceed down the motorcade. The event began at four pm and ended promptly at six in a well-orchestrated parade. Some students, including twins or those with two family groupings, drove through the parade twice.

It was a joyous event, sure to be the envy of SHS graduating classes down the line.

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vigil2Throughout this past weekend, the Scarsdale Village seemed to be in full pre-summer bloom, filled with shoppers, walkers, and restaurant-goers whose masks were the only indication that these were not-at-all normal times. On Sunday night, however, the relaxed atmosphere abruptly changed minutes after 6 pm, as Scarsdale residents gathered in and around Chase Park to attend the Vigil for George Floyd and Victims of Police Brutality. In an event that attracted at least 350 black-clad residents and featured nine powerful speakers, the citizens of Scarsdale made it abundantly clear that even if police brutality and systemic racism have not devastated our city like others, they are still scourges at the forefront of our collective consciousness.

The organizers of the event, four young Scarsdalians and members of the Scarsdale High School Class of 2016, greeted the crowd by explaining the purpose of the event. Mentioning the names of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, they acknowledged the limitations of their own perspective, with three-of-four of them being white, while emphasizing the importance of listening and reflecting on the current nationwide movement for change. Standing on a raised podium in the upper center of the park, they were surrounded on all sides by residents young and old, many of whom carried signs reading “Enough is enough” or “I can’t breathe,” and all of whom wore masks in order to be admitted onto the park’s grass. A few mutters and shuffles could be heard as the organizers finished speaking, but as Scarsdale Mayor Marc Samwick stepped up to the microphone his words rang out to a crowd hanging on his each and every word.

Samwick led off a line-up of nine speakers which included county officials, students, and long-time Scarsdale vigil4residents, each of whom offered a different viewpoint on how racism plays out in policing, education, and other areas, even in a progressive community like Scarsdale. The black community of Scarsdale, and especially the city’s black youth, was strongly represented by current Scarsdale High School students and college students. These speakers expressed frustration with an education system that consistently failed to represent the voices and history of their community, and stressed that attending a vigil was far from enough to confront long-standing racial inequities in Scarsdale and the broader US. Zoë Sussman, a graduating senior at SHS, captured the urgency of change when she said that “doing the bare minimum in 2020 is simply unacceptable.”

vigil3Throughout the event, there was no dearth of concrete policy and individual goals proposed. Shawn Patterson-Howard, the first woman of color to hold a mayoral position in Westchester and the current mayor of Mount Vernon, called for the repeal of provision 50-A, a statute of New York state law which shields police officers’ disciplinary records from the public eye (and that is expected to be repealed by the state legislature this week). The potential awkwardness of her calls for police reform, as officers lined the perimeter of the park and closed off traffic to make room for the vigil, was not lost on Ms. Patterson-Howard, as she acknowledged the important work of cops while adding “it’s hard to be a good cop in such a broken system.” Other speakers, such as former SHS teacher and the first black GQ cover-model Rashid Silvera, drew on decades of personal experience with racism and implored the audience to seek out lessons from the past to shape the current movement. The stories of two former law enforcement stand-outs, Arnold W. James and Steve McDonald, guided the speeches of Silvera and Petero Sabune, a Nigerian-American reverend who said that “seeing each other as human beings” is essential in order to prevent future tragedies like George Floyd’s.

vigil6The last speaker of the night, famed musician and Hamilton actor Christopher Jackson, admitted that he was glad the vigil had been delayed from its original date of Friday, June 5th, because the rain gave him more time to think about what he wanted to say. His core message - that we must “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” - dovetailed well with the prevailing atmosphere of the vigil, one that was both deeply fed up with the current state of racism in our country but also hopeful for the future. Even after Jackson’s speech ended and the vigil concluded with an eight-minute and 46 second moment of silence (the duration representing the time that Officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck), his closing lines seemed to permeate the park as people filed out. He urged everyone in attendance to “never underestimate what a small group of people with conviction, with heart, and with perseverance can do to change the world - because that’s the only thing that ever has.” One can only hope that the verve of Scarsdale residents who turned out with signs and supportive shouts will truly become the action that Jackson and the other speakers demanded.

Photo Credits: Jack Silvers and Flo Weiner

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