SHS Teachers Fight to Have Their Voices Heard – and for Their Lives

Teachers+deliver+powerful+sentiments+at+a+Board+of+Education+Meeting

Maroon Staff

Teachers deliver powerful sentiments at a Board of Education Meeting

Sydney Piccoli

Teachers were involved in formulating the original plan for the upcoming school year which involved a fully remote model with no in-person learning for ninth through twelfth graders. However, a fully remote schedule was met by an uproar of hostility and anger from Scarsdale parents. Thus, in order to meet the demands of the parents, the district altered the restart plan for SHS from a fully remote model to a hybrid model that encompassed both in-person and virtual learning. Unlike the original plan, a majority of teachers did not endorse the newly created hybrid model. 

 

On August 11th, a Board of Education meeting took place where the four officers of the Scarsdale Teachers’ Association including STA President David Wixted, STA Chair for Rights and Responsibilities Dina Hofstetter, STA VP for SHS Stephen Mounkhall and Executive VP of the STA voiced their opinions and concerns regarding the new restart plan for the 20-21 school year. 

 

David Wixted, a teacher at Scarsdale Middle School for nearly thirty years, commented that “again and again plans put forth through the earnest work committees with broad representation have been subverted by community members who believe these plans do not provide enough.” “Teachers are dismayed that their lives and those of their families seem to be of such little concern and must be risked to provide severely diminished educational experiences for students. Teachers are shocked that the health and safety of our students and their families are to be placed at risk through plans that pretend that children are capable of behaving as perfect actors following the protocols of social distancing and mask-wearing,” proceeded Wixted. 

 

Dina Hofstetter, an art teacher at Scarsdale High School for twenty-seven years, opened with a powerful sentiment noting the large amount of dedication SHS teachers possess. “When children come to us with new clubs, we don’t check our contract to see if we should agree to advise them, we check our calendars and secure childcare for after school on Tuesdays and Fridays because we believe it is important for students to get together and share their love for photography or business or robotics,” stated Hofstetter. Additionally, she commented on the community’s blatant disregard for teacher’s safety and rights in favor of in-person learning. She urged the community to remember that for many people the pandemic is a matter of life and death and that there is a multitude of factors to consider when creating such a critical decision. “At a time when we needed to pull together as a community and listen to the voices of compassion and caution the district has instead chosen to amplify the voices of privilege and pressure. We are at a loss, because just as community members have stated they did not come here for distance learning, we did not come here to be regarded as interchangeable instructional delivery systems,” said Hofstetter.

 

Stephen Mounkhall, an English teacher at Scarsdale High School for twenty-three years, opened with notable statistics, stating that 88 Scarsdale High School teachers reported feeling uncomfortable teaching this fall, and 83 Scarsdale High School teachers stated that their ability to do their job this fall will be limited or extremely limited and 83 Scarsdale High School teachers believe their influence on the district’s reopening discuss has been limited or extremely limited. Mounkhall proceeded to express his concerns about teaching during a pandemic and explain how limited his teaching will be as “state mandates remind every person, every minute of the physical risk we are taking by being together in person.” “A majority of Scarsdale High School’s teachers are telling you that “in-person” learning, in this moment, makes us feel uncomfortable; makes us feel as if we will be limited in how we do our job; and makes us feel as if our voice has not been respected. Why not listen to the people you have trusted to take care of your children?” concluded Mounkhall. 

 

Joe Vaughan, a physics teacher for nearly 23 years as well as a speech and debate coach, talked about the pandemic from a logical and scientific viewpoint. In regards to parents asking for outdoor spaces to be utilized as learning environments, Vaughan responded stating that “you cannot plan to open a school if you cannot absolutely rely on that space every day as part of your social distancing plan.” Furthermore, he justified his point by explaining that “every space designated as an educational setting, including outdoor space, must be approved by NYSED. In a good year, getting NYSED approval for construction takes months.” He continued to discuss other facets of uncertainty with a hybrid schedule such as the potential shortage for masks, face shields, plexiglass shields between desks, and cleaning supplies. Lastly, he explained that, due to the patchwork nature of the HVAC, it is simply not impossible to put in the types of filters that have been shown to filter out this virus in Scarsdale High School and regardless, ventilation projects take both time and state approval. “Everything I am imagining – social distancing, masks, shields, and barriers – renders the experience of being in school to be educationally sterile, but unfortunately not physically so,” concluded Vaughan. 

 

As teachers fight to have their voices heard and quite literally for their lives, students are fighting alongside their beloved teachers. Victoria Wilson, a rising senior at SHS, recently created a petition alongside her sister, Alexandra Wilson, who graduated from Scarsdale High School in 2019. Currently, students have the option to choose either remote learning or hybrid learning while teachers are required to teach in person even if they are considered high risk. Thus, most teachers have two options which are either to risk their very lives to go into Scarsdale High School to teach or take an unpaid leave of absence, which many can not afford. The Wilson sisters created a petition to grant Jeanne Cooper, an English teacher at SHS, a virtual accommodation as she is especially vulnerable to the virus due to her pre-existing medical condition as well as her age. The petition has already gained tremendous support with over 840 signatures. 

 

SHS teachers are of the most committed, caring, and considerate people of the Scarsdale community. They work tirelessly to ensure students have a well-rounded education that enables them to succeed both inside the classroom as well as outside the classroom. It is imperative that in a time of turmoil and utter chaos, we, as a community, focus our efforts to create a plan for the 20-21 school year that ensures the safety of all members of the Scarsdale community from educators to students.