Scarsdale Middle School photo

Scarsdale Public Schools announced Sunday, March 8, that all schools in the district would close March 9 through March 18 “in an abundance of caution” after school officials learned a middle school faculty member tested positive for COVID-19.

School officials said they have been working with the State Department of Health and State Department of Education to discuss necessary steps since the Westchester County health commissioner recommended they close schools.

The district urged the community to follow state health department guidance for “social distancing” to keep student and adult interactions to small groups and for everyone to “practice good germ hygiene.” All school activities, meetings and events, including sports, were canceled through March 18.

On Wednesday, March 11, the district announced plans for teachers to provide e-learning starting Monday, March 16. The Education Continuity Plan Supported by Technology relies on a suite of online instructional tools that will support remote instruction and communication among students and teachers. Additional online resources are provided through the Scarsdale Public Library.

District curriculum coordinators held videoconferences with the faculty to guide them as they set up 25- to 30-minute sessions of daily independent activities for elementary students in core instructional areas: reading, writing, math and science. Older elementary school students will also be given activities for art, music and Spanish.

Acknowledging that providing e-learning at the elementary level has “unique challenges,” the district said in the online announcement it is “curating resources that would best support meaningful, independent learning.” The “hope is that our students will work to the best of their ability and with the resources already available to them at home.”

Middle school faculty will use Schoology, an online platform, to post assignments, communicate with students and provide ongoing instruction during the closure. The e-learning system will remain in place for students who might be in mandatory quarantine once school reopens.

There will be 20 to 25 minutes of instruction per day in each of the five subject areas, with flexibility regarding work completion and deadlines. The middle school faculty can create assessments to gauge student learning, but those will not count toward the students’ grade average.

For high school students, faculty began Thursday, March 12, to use a variety of online tools to maintain continuity in classwork during the closure. The school’s statement said materials have been designed to “provide enrichment, to activate previous learning, and to help students organize and plan their schedules for the days until school re-opens.”

The statement concluded with this message: “We are doing our best to provide continuity of education during this difficult time. We recognize that distance learning cannot fully replace the learning experiences students and teachers have when they are in school. Please know that we will be making adaptations, as appropriate, to our plan in response to evolving situations and guidance from the state.”

The e-learning plan also includes appropriate skill-building work and/or differentiation in assignments for students with special needs, as well as clear guidance from teachers on how to contact them with questions or concerns and receive regular check-ins. In addition, teachers of English Language Learners will reach out directly to those students to ensure they are on track with implementation of e-learning.

Social-emotional support

With student well-being and mental health a district priority equal to academics, the district administration said it has been coordinating with physical education teachers and psychologists to develop materials and guidance for parents on social-emotional and physical well-being during the closure. Elementary parents received that information Thursday, March 12, along with resource links and independent reading suggestions.

A message to middle school parents is set to go out next.

For high school students, the district said the counseling department has been reaching out on issues ranging from SAT testing and college visitations to course enrollment for next year.

The district message board also said school-based social workers associated with the Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Service’s Youth Services are in contact with their students and families to offer support.

Cleaning and sanitizing

The district began deep cleaning all buildings and buses March 7, including four small buses and a van that transport students to private schools.

Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey told the Inquirer by email that the district’s custodial team disinfected the buses using “proper protocols” based on CDC and DoH guidelines for cleaning and disposal methods. He said they are using “normal disinfecting solutions” as outlined by state guidelines, including Morning Mist and Concrobium — a “green,” botanical-based liquid that can be fogged in a ULV fogger. Both products are hospital-grade, broad-spectrum disinfectants and, according to the district webpost, “the combination of the two products guarantees that everything in any given room is covered, including books, papers, equipment, floors, desks, ceilings, and the like.”

Aside from introducing the use of Concrobium, the deep cleaning procedures are “actually typical for when we disinfect,” Mattey said.

Mattey said the district will incur overtime costs — to be paid out of the general fund in the school budget — for weekend work on March 7 and 8, and said he doesn’t expect any additional costs to arise.

“With the warm winter we have actually spent less in overtime in snow removal, so a bit of a tradeoff,” he said, adding, “I think we would have preferred some snow.”

Mixed reactions

When the school closure announcement first circulated, a Greenacres resident and parent of a high schooler said, “My daughter and I were in the middle of dinner when my phone buzzed with the news… We were utterly floored, and our food went untouched as we began frantically messaging with family and friends. Some are applauding the district’s decision; others are railing that it’s insensitive to the needs of working parents; still others are frantically casting about for ad hoc child care.

“I’m fortunate that as a work-from-home parent, child care isn’t an issue for us, but my heart goes out to those who are suddenly caught up short.”

On March 11, school administrators responded to reports of students “gathering in large numbers” and “posting their disregard for the risks associated” with the coronavirus outbreak.

“While the district doesn’t control what happens outside of school, we implore families to practice appropriate social-distancing,” the district posted in a message on its website.

One Quaker Ridge mother of an eighth-grader said, “The confusion and the concern makes it a very challenging and stressful time for parents, the kids and the community. The middle schoolers have heard about coronavirus in the news, but now it’s happening at home and they’re scared and confused. Kids really are in a panic. They don’t know what to do.”

Several parents told the Inquirer they weren’t sure how they would keep the children occupied until the plan for remote instruction takes shape.

Throughout the weekend, fear outpaced the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Westchester as Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a state of emergency on March 7. That declaration gave the state more flexibility to purchase necessary materials and to hire people quickly to respond to the situation.

“If people understand the facts here they shouldn’t be alarmed,” the governor said Sunday in a televised interview. “The fear and the anxiety is greatly outpacing the reality. And we’re fighting… fear even more than the virus.”

Scarsdale Youth Hockey informed its participating families March 6 that a member of one of its teams — not a Scarsdale resident as SYHA takes players from many different communities — had tested positive for the virus.

After the school district confirmed that information through the department of health, it emailed the school community and established a dedicated page on the home page of its website, scarsdaleschools.org, where it has been posting updates for the entire community to access, in addition to sending emails to all district email lists.

School officials also canceled the Science Olympiad that was scheduled to take place at the middle school March 7. The event, held annually, involves as many as 1,000 participants from schools around the county.

Make-up days and testing

Plans to make up the missed in-school instruction days are not yet clear. School officials noted the vacation dates set aside for weather or other “makeup” days are April 6 and 13 and May 22, assuming the schools will reopen as planned on March 18.

Schedules for issuing report cards and progress reports and holding Scarsdale parent/teacher conferences for grades K-2 (currently scheduled on March 19) are slated to be sent to parents Friday, March 13.

The College Board notified students its SAT testing scheduled for March 14 would be postponed. As of press time, the district had not received guidance from the state about English Language Arts (ELA) testing scheduled for March 25 and 26,

Visit scarsdaleschools.org for continued updates from the school district.

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