Scarsdale Superintendent Dr. Thomas Hagerman released a statement Thursday, July 23, to let families know how the district is formulating its plan for reopening Scarsdale schools in the fall and the dates for releasing that information to the community.
Hagerman said Scarsdale’s decision-making process has relied on the metrics for reopening that were laid out by Gov. Andrew Cuomo this month. How school might look in the fall depends on whether the region is in Phase 4 of the state’s phased reopening and has a rolling weekly infection rate below 9% and two week average rate below 9%.
The district plan is being formulated to follow NYS Department of Health and Department of Education guidance, released July 16, which prioritizes health and safety, flexibility, creativity, collaboration and iteration. There also is a priority to provide in-person learning for the students least likely to benefit from remote learning.
School districts are required to submit reopening plans by July 31 that include options for a full return at 100% capacity, a hybrid model with some in-person and some remote learning, and an option for fully remote learning.
“Unfortunately, this deadline for submitting a plan to the state necessitates an abbreviated time frame for communication and feedback,” Hagerman wrote in the statement.
During the week of July 6, Scarsdale schools sent a survey to all teachers and staff to gauge their needs and concerns for reopening, and on July 15 a survey went to 2,900 district families. Assistant Superintendent Eric Rauschenbach told the Inquirer the district received about 2,700 responses as of Monday, which are currently being reviewed and synthesized along with input from the district Restart Steering Committee and several task specific groups comprising parents, faculty and staff who have been discussing reopening options for several weeks.
“There are still many details that will need to be worked through and finalized, and all plans should be considered dynamic, as they will change over time, depending on any number of conditions and variables,” said Hagerman.
He said the district is committed to providing a safe educational environment, establishing and nurturing connections for the school community, and fostering “meaningful learning opportunities for each student regardless of the structure of schooling, which takes place in the future.”
The district is also committed to following state laws and guidance, and health and safety protocols, which mandate the use of face coverings and social distancing and reducing capacity within classrooms.
Another belief held by the district is that “in-person learning is generally preferable to remote learning for students, and that students benefit both academically and socially from in-person interactions with peers and teachers,” said Hagerman, noting that health and safety precautions will have an impact on the instruction options and “regular and thoughtful adjustments” may be necessary. In addition, he said remote learning may be “more appropriate” in some or all circumstances, depending on the course of the pandemic.
Edgemont eyes hybrid opening
As school districts consider reopening plans after receiving guidance from the New York State Education Department on July 16, Edgemont School District Superintendent Victoria Kniewel said the district was leaning toward adopting a hybrid model of education in the fall, which would include a mix of both in-person and online learning.
“Our goal remains the same. A healthy and safe return for … students, faculty and staff,” said Kniewel. “We very much want instruction to return to the school buildings, should the state render that possible.”
At a board of education meeting on July 1, board members outlined three possible scenarios for school instruction in September. The scenarios included all students returning to school with social distancing and health protocols in place, students returning in a hybrid model with both online and in-person instruction, or all students continuing with full-time e-learning.
The district also established 11 committees and a district community stakeholder group to assess risks and possibilities for the three scenarios. The stakeholder group — comprised of 35 people, including community members, board members, teachers, aides, students, nurses, administrators and local experts in medicine, health and safety, and infectious disease — would help inform whichever plan aligned most with the governor’s directive.
Specifics on the implementation of a hybrid education model for the district are still being discussed.
“I think nobody believes that everybody back is possible at this point,” school board president Alec Clarke told the Inquirer. “I think everybody wants to do hybrid as long as we can figure out how to do it safely and do it within the guidelines that were given to us.”
At a board meeting held virtually on July 21, Edgemont School administrators presented a reopening update for four of the 13 categories in the SED guidance document: health and safety, facilities, social and emotional well-being, and technology and connectivity.
In the health and safety category, the SED stipulated 21 mandatory reopening requirements for in-person instruction for the fall. The requirements include a written protocol for daily temperature screenings for staff and students, a protocol for students and staff to wear face coverings when social distancing is not possible, and multiple protocols for dealing with visitors, mask breaks and ensuring people in the school building stay 6 feet apart.
Kniewel said the district would perform regular health checks and had been reviewing smartphone apps that could help students and staff take their temperatures. Adults in the building would answer health screening questions every day, while students would be required to do so once a week.
The district’s medical offices were also being modified to include isolation areas to accommodate any student or staff member suspected of being infected with the virus.
“It won’t be a full isolation area like in a hospital, but the guidance does not require that for a school,” said Kniewel.
Students and faculty would also be required to wear facial coverings throughout the day, so the district is stocking up on masks, cleaning materials and sanitizers for student and staff use.
“I know some parents are concerned about younger children,” said Kniewel referring to the requirement for facial coverings. “The guidance does leave a little bit of leeway depending on the activity and of course the age of the children … but we expect for the most part, except for those very special situations, which we will work on, everyone would be wearing face coverings.”
The district has also been working with an architect to sketch out each school building to calculate the maximum number of students that would be allowed back into the building with social distancing requirements.
For district facilities, SED has six requirements and other mandatory provisions for making alterations for space utilization and expansion.
Director of Facilities John McCabe said the district was putting together a floor plan with an architect to figure out the best ways to use space.
Water fountain bubblers throughout the district would be closed, although water bottle filling stations would still be available. Many faucets in Edgemont’s three schools will also be converted to touchless.
McCabe said the district was also looking at upgrading the schools’ mechanical air system from 7 to 9 MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values) to 11 MERV.
“We don’t know how that will affect air flow through the system,” said McCabe. “When you tighten up on the filtering, it could create a pressure drop throughout the system and that’s something we want to monitor closely and make sure we’re getting proper air flow in the classrooms.”
With the high school cafeteria still planning to have food service in September, McCabe said the district was working on modifications to the queueing system to protect students, servers and the food.
The district will be using BioShield, a biostatic surface protectant to disinfect school grounds. McCabe also said he would be testing a hypochlorous acid to sodium hydroxide mixture for disinfecting.
“We don’t hear anyone talking too much about the effects that all these chemicals we’re putting into the buildings might be having on people or students, so I’m trying to find ways to disinfect and do it safely,” he said.
According to Assistant Superintendent Susan Shirken, the district has put approximately $150,000 in accounts designated to cover the cost of COVID-19 related materials, supplies, equipment and services. The accounts are funded with 2019-20 budgeted funds that were not used since the district closed in March.
For social and emotional well-being, SED required districts to have an updated plan for a comprehensive school counseling program and to establish an advisory council or other collaborative working group to form the plan. Schools also must spell out how they will provide resources and referrals to address mental health, behavior and emotional support service and programs and address professional development opportunities for faculty and staff to learn how to talk with and support students during and after the pandemic.
Director of Pupil Personnel Services Joseph Schippa said school psychologists and counselors were working in tandem with the medical team on a model of support for the community through a “trauma-informed support plan.”
“We are looking at using a tiered system of support for faculty and staff, parents and students that will begin with some professional development for faculty and staff prior to school opening and to continue throughout the school year as things develop,” he said.
The three-tier plan provides interventions for the community down to the individualized student depending on the situation.
Tier 1 includes interventions that are provided to the community, school, classrooms and parents and is designed to stabilize and promote social and emotional functioning, and inform and educate about the impact of a traumatic stress event.
“That type of education … can help people feel at least more informed and … somewhat normalized about what they may be feeling and how they may be generating responses to what has been happening,” said Schippa.
Tier 2 includes group or individual interventions for students and is designed to educate and stabilize social and emotional functioning.
Tier 3 includes direct and individualized interventions through counseling and consultation for any specific student who may be dealing with more difficult situations related to the pandemic.
“This three-tiered model is a model we think is going to be a dynamic model that we will continue to add to as the year goes on and as things shift in terms of how our interventions and how our school community will be functioning,” said Schippa.
For technology and connectivity the education department requires districts to be aware of the level of access to devices and highspeed internet its students and teachers have in their residences. The district must address students’ and teachers’ needs for devices and internet access and provide multiple ways for students to participate in learning and to demonstrate mastery of learning standards in remote or blended models.
“Fortunately, over the past couple of years we have been moving all of our instructional technology applications to the cloud and that really served us well for distance learning for the e-learning model,” said Director of Technology Paul Garofano.
Besides running a 1-gigabyte connection throughout all the schools in the district, Garofano said students in grades five through 10 would have a 1:1 device ratio and would be allowed to take devices home after school hours. Third and fourth graders would also have a 1:1 device ratio but would only have access to Chromebooks while in school and wouldn’t be allowed to take them home. Students in kindergarten through second grade and high school juniors and seniors would have a 2:1 device ratio, although many upperclassmen were usually required to bring their own devices.
Since distance learning started up in March, Garofano said the district has loaned out more than 150 devices to families.
More discussions on the reopening plan, which will be submitted to the education department by the end of July, will be discussed next week with stakeholder groups, with a more detailed plan expected in August. Kniewel said parents should expect an updated model by next week.
“Whatever plan we ultimately end up with — no matter how much guidance we have, no matter how much feedback we have — will create issues for certain families,” said Clarke. “That’s just a given, there’s no possible way around that.”