This week the second largest storm since Superstorm Sandy hit our area, throwing a punch on top of the pandemic and its devastating impact on our lives. We are reeling. We are exhausted. But rather than let all the adversity get us down, we have to be resilient and flexible.
Flexibility will be paramount as school starts up next month. School administrators, teachers, students, parents and business owners are dealing with a situation we’ve never faced before. Scarsdale and Edgemont public schools must follow New York State Department of Education guidelines, which are tied to New York State Department of Health’s COVID-19 risk level, when planning in-person classroom instruction. With Westchester County in Phase 4 and rates of COVID-19 infection and hospitalization staying low, our school leaders are proposing hybrid models of in-person and remote learning.
Last week Edgemont unveiled its plan for an alternate AM/PM in-person schedule starting Sept. 9, and this week Scarsdale — after intense back and forth with parents — followed suit with a similar plan for school when classes resume Sept. 8.
Starting school with a hybrid, A/B schedule allows the districts to adhere to social distancing guidelines — reducing the number of students in school buildings and on buses — and to keep class sizes more manageable for teachers while they implement new teaching systems and enforce new safety precautions. It also provides all students crucial face-to-face instruction and social interaction. At the same time, districts are developing a full-time virtual learning option for families who prefer not to send their children to school, which also would kick in for everyone, should a coronavirus outbreak force schools to shut down.
Everyone is going to have to adjust to this hybrid system and its complex scheduling. Parents may have to arrange day care when their children are learning at home. Employers will have to accommodate working parents’ schedules as they juggle their children’s being at home and at school.
School districts, along with state education leaders, are doing what they can to navigate uncharted territory and provide the best possible options for all students. Scarsdale in particular has faced intense criticism for its lack of transparency and its failure to involve parents more broadly and deeply in the process. We have been closely following parents’ questions, complaints and petitions, and we are aware of the Parents Restart Plan Review Group, a grassroots effort that issued a 16-page response Thursday to Scarsdale’s plan.
Each concern is valid as it reflects a particular group’s or family's circumstances, whether it’s a two income family working remotely at home with plenty of space or in tighter quarters, or those working out of the house. But each separate school district needs to come up with one plan that will accommodate a whole host of people with a host of needs. This is far from an ideal situation; we don’t live in the privileged world we knew six months ago and we might not get what we want. But we are all in this together and we need to work together. We need to remember in a pandemic the overriding concern is for the safety of all students and teachers, above all else.
As New York State announces COVID-19 data daily and scrutinizes weekly rolling averages, the situation could change from week to week. If COVID-19 infection rates begin to rise at some point during the year, schools will have to close and all students will return to full remote instruction. Will we respond with flexibility or will we crumble — will we bend or break? Let’s choose to bend.