School reopen masks stock photo

Monday evening, Aug. 3, the Scarsdale community finally got a look at the school district’s reopening plan, an 84-page document that will likely go through more changes before and after being sent to New York State for review on Friday, Aug. 7.

Following an online listening session that took place with 70 speakers over five hours on Tuesday, July 28, the plan was amended to address issues raised by the community. The session, hosted by school board president Pam Fuehrer and vice president Alison Singer, was scheduled after leaks and rumors circulated the previous week about the possibility of the high school not having any in-person learning and not having an all-virtual option for families who requested one.

According to the report, it is “not possible” for Scarsdale to create a 100% reopen plan without increasing campus space with offsite properties. Some of the keys to keeping students and employees safe should the schools reopen in a hybrid model are predetermined cleaning schedules, social distancing, use of masks at all times, cohorting students in the same groups as much as possible, cutting down movement between classrooms and a reduction of student density by “roughly” 50%.

“This plan is being developed with the understanding there will most likely be COVID-19 spread in our community over the next school year,” the report said. “Our risk mitigation strategies and adherences to cohorting seeks to reduce that risk to the greatest extent possible while still providing an educationally beneficial experience to our students.”

Elementary schools

According to the plan, with an A/B Monday/Tuesday and Thursday/ Friday in-person schedule, Scarsdale’s hybrid elementary school plan would have kids in school twice a week for 3.5 hours each day with three core content areas covered each day. From home two days per week, students would get a morning meeting with the full class for 30 minutes, two 30-minute specials, and “closure/clarification” between 2 and 3 p.m.

Wednesdays would be for “teacher planning, alignment, assessment, specials, and specials services” and the day will begin and end with remote sessions with the classroom teacher.

Students will be divided into cohorts of 10 to 12 students and will stay in their assigned classrooms most of the day. Special education students will have an increased in-person schedule.

According to the plan, “Students with medical conditions or who are uncomfortable attending school will take part in a schedule that will follow the remote learning plan … Depending on numbers of students in each grade level students could be grouped across two grades.”

Middle school

Students will be assigned to 1 of 4 groups with cohort size being approximately 50 students, which is half of a typical team/house. Group A would attend school Monday/Thursday, Group B Tuesday/Friday, Group C for special education and ELL students would attend four days a week (with e-learning on Wednesdays), and Group D containing 100% remote choice.

When in school, students will change classes under an eight-period model, with lunchtime included. Lockers will not be used; students will carry everything in their backpacks. They will also not change their clothes for physical education class.

Students who opt to stay home will attend classes remotely and “follow the same schedule at home as their peers who are physically in the building.”

Should remote learning be the lone option, there is a middle school schedule to follow every day but Wednesday that includes whole class and small group time. “Wednesday will include time for students to receive extra help and participate in some extracurricular activities,” according to the plan. “Specific schedules are under development.”

High school

The hybrid model calls for two half days of in-person education on an A/B Monday/Thursday, Tuesday/Friday cohort five-period schedule with a mix of synchronous and asynchronous remote learning the rest of the day. Students will not change clothing for physical education.

Among the noted pluses in the report are:

  • · It “preserves student choice and differentiation,” which allows the “full complement of courses.”
  • · Limits the numbers of classroom changes from seven to five.
  • · Students will not eat lunch at school.
  • · It limits free periods to twice a day.

The main drawback:

  • · Students aren’t there for two full days per week.

According to the report, “The students, parents, and teachers on the SHS Restart Committee were unanimous that this schedule is the best hybrid schedule we could devise because of how it offers in-person experiences and flexibility for students and teachers who are not in school. The consensus was predicated on protecting and supporting vulnerable members of our community and not penalizing students or teachers who cannot come to school.”

For full remote learning, the 34 periods of the regular week are “preserved” and “the remote-learning schedule provides all students with the course selections they would have had if school were to open without restrictions.”

Students who opt to stay home will attend classes remotely which “follows the same schedule at home as their peers who are physically in the building.”

For students with unique learning needs across all grade levels, the district has prioritized that group for more in-person and synchronous learning when possible.

“In light of these apparent challenges, we believe the following plan provides students with the most beneficial educational experience within what the constraints allow,” the report said. “As this school year unfolds, the District is committed to flexibly addressing challenges, expanding successes, increasing in-person learning as conditions permit, and working to continuously improve the experience for our students.”

Going forward

Scarsdale was scheduled to release a tutorial video based on the plan on Wednesday and has three sessions scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 6:

1) A public forum on the restart plan from 1-2:30 p.m. at zoom.us/j/99386699960;

2) A board of education special meeting from 2:30-4:30 p.m. at zoom.us/j/92299123289; and

3) A board of education listening session form 6:30-8 p.m. at zoom.us/j/92935409522.

A follow-up survey will be sent to parents on Aug. 10 to “assess parents’ current plans for the fall, in the event we are allowed to open for in-person learning.” At that time parents will be able to choose a remote e-learning option. The survey will also cover transportation to determine how many students will travel by bus, carpool or on foot.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is expected to announce whether or not schools can open in some form if they have proper protocols in place late this week, seemed to throw a wrench into everyone’s plans during briefings on Saturday and Monday when he addressed the issue of reopening.

Cuomo touted how good New York State’s COVID-19 numbers are looking with cases, hospitalizations and deaths at a low.

“This is really all great, great news and I congratulate New Yorkers because this is purely a result of the actions they've been taking,” Cuomo said. “The progress is even better than we expected. Remember when we started reopening, all the experts said expect the infection rate to increase when the activity rate increases. That's what you've seen all across the country, that's what you've seen in other countries, and that's what we expected here. We then were talking about calibrating the increase and making sure it didn't go that high, but it was supposed to go up. After two and a half months of reopening, the numbers have actually gone down; which nobody suggested. That is really to compliment New Yorkers.”

His main message to the 700 school districts in the state was that districts need to listen to parent feedback first and foremost. “You need the parents to be comfortable,” Cuomo said. “You need the teachers to be comfortable. You need the children to show up at school and there's going to have to be a discussion … the parents are going to make the decision.”

Focusing on the issue of testing for COVID-19, he said, “I'll tell you what [parents are] asking me, I’ll tell you what they're going to ask every school district. ‘How are you going to test? How many tests are you going to take? Are you sure you have them lined up? Are you sure those are enough tests? Is it a representative sample? How long is it going to take to turn around the tests — is it two days, four days, seven days?’

“They're informed, parents. They're the most informed people on this issue probably in the country. They've lived through it. They're going to have questions. This is not going to be the school district puts out a plan and then by fiat, by dictatorship, that is the plan.”

Along with restart plan release, Scarsdale Schools Superintendent Thomas Hagerman sent a letter to the community with a paragraph about the Cuomo testing bombshell: “This work is complicated by ever-changing circumstances and shifting requirements. In fact, just this afternoon, the Governor stated that school reopening plans would only be viable if districts have the capability to initiate and follow through with rapid COVID-19 testing. We have learned of this new development at the same time as the public. Currently, Scarsdale does not have the capability to test individuals for COVID-19. While the District will explore all possibilities, our ability to develop the capacity for on-site, rapid-result testing remains a significant unknown. If this becomes a requirement of reopening, we will need to revise our plan accordingly.”

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