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SHS PTA Voices Concerns About Scarsdale Restart Plan

shs2This letter was sent to the Superintendent and the Restart Committee by the Scarsdale High School PTA Executive Committee:

Dear Dr. Hagerman and Members of the Restart Steering Committee:
The SHS PTA Executive Committee appreciates the efforts of all of the Scarsdale Restart Committees and the tremendous undertaking involved in reopening Scarsdale schools in a safe and timely manner. It is a monumental task to manage competing priorities while satisfying the numerous requirements of both the Department of Health and the NYS Education Department guidelines.

In light of recent discussions within the Scarsdale community regarding a possible scenario that does not adequately address the broad educational and developmental needs of high school students, we feel it necessary to communicate our grave concerns. Specifically, we are troubled by the possibility that all high school students might be moved to fully remote learning while plans for all other students include some element of in-person learning. Every student in the community equally deserves to benefit from going to school if deemed safe to do so. Beyond the delivery of instructional time, in-person learning is critical to our high schoolers because it facilitates connection with peers, mentor relationships with faculty and community building, none of which can easily be replicated in a remote learning environment.

The Scarsdale High School PTA Committee acknowledges how difficult the task is for the District to develop a plan for high school students which delivers the Scarsdale model of choice in course selection while adhering to the new health and safety measures required by the state. An innovative solution, however, could both preserve student course choice while still allowing for some component of in-person engagement. We urge the District to think deeply and creatively about how to bring high school students back on campus as they formulate plans for September and beyond.

While high school students may be capable of remote learning in a way that younger students are not, that does not mean a fully remote learning model is in the best interests of high school students. In that regard we feel it necessary to highlight the following needs of high school students that will go unmet with a fully remote learning model:

Social and Emotional Wellbeing
Social connections are paramount to healthy adolescent development and emotional wellbeing. The ability to maintain relationships and social connections is not only critical for our students’ overall mental health but also impacts their ability to learn. Providing high school students with some opportunity for in-person learning and engagement with peer groups and teachers will protect students against the negative effects of social isolation such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse. In June 2020 the SHS PTA administered a survey to parents in order to assess student wellness and needs. The results overwhelmingly reinforced our understanding that parents are concerned about the impact of social isolation due to remote learning conditions and that our community places great value on the social connections which school typically provides for our teens.

Student and Teacher Transition to a New School Year
Every new school year presents teachers with the opportunity to forge a new classroom community and to develop relationships with new students. Similarly, students must transition to learning from new teachers and with new groups of classmates. It is commonly understood that these relationships are essential to creating a robust and effective learning environment. Starting the school year under a fully remote scenario would significantly hamper the ability of both teachers and students to meet these learning conditions. Consistent with the Scarsdale Schools Restart’s commitment to, “establishing nurturing connections” and “fostering meaningful learning opportunities for each student,” every effort must be made to bring students and teachers at all levels including the high school together in-person, particularly at the start of the year, to establish a foundation for optimal teaching and optimal learning.

Diversity of Learning Modalities
Lectures on a computer do not work for all learners. Reading textbooks and answering rote questions do not equate with higher level learning for all students. Students requiring educational services need to have access to specialists to reinforce their educational progress. At the high school level, parents are not adequate replacements for educational support from teachers and specialists when students struggle. Furthermore, some classes, such as design & fabrication, ceramics or science labs, simply do not translate into a remote learning model. Creative solutions should be considered which address these different learning needs with in-person learning options wherever possible.

Bridge for Further Learning
The transition from middle school to high school is challenging for most students. A failure to provide appropriate in-person support and the opportunity to establish a new school community would create undue hardship for our Freshmen. Additionally, upperclassmen in grades 10-12 are working to build the connections with their teachers, deans and peer learning groups that are necessary not only to master the curriculum at this level, but to prepare them for college and beyond.

The SHS PTA Executive Committee is also disappointed by the lack of early transparency and missteps in the restart planning process:

1. The District did not seek widespread community input early enough in the restart process. Engaging in feedback through community forums would have been a way in which the entire school community could have followed the process and development of the plans.

2. The survey to parents, while welcomed and utilized by the majority of families in our community, was implemented too late to be integrated fully into the planning process. The results of the survey to parents have not yet been shared with the community.

3. Furthermore, the District has not yet sought feedback on the full range of scenarios under consideration, including a scenario whereby some students receive in-person learning and others do not.

We hope for better and more timely communication from the District to the community going forward, particularly since the metrics, and therefore the educational programming, may change throughout the school year.

The Scarsdale Executive PTA Committee respects the magnitude of the task before the District to develop a plan for September, and the tight time frame under which this work is being done. However, before plans are finalized and submitted to the state for approval, we ask that every effort be made to deliver some component of in-person experience at the high school while maintaining course choice; we believe that both are vital to the total success of students and teachers during these challenging times.

Leanne Freda on behalf of
SHS PTA Executive Committee*
*Joey Silberfein recused herself as a member of the Restart Steering Committee
Cc: Ken Bonamo

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