School board president’s open letter on return to full-time learning and racial equity audit


On right, School Board President Jessica DeDomenico with Vice President Sue Bratone Childs.

Editor’s note: This press release was provided by the Pelham Union Free School District.

Dear Pelham Community,

On Wednesday night, the Board of Education had the opportunity to hear from the community and discuss two topics which have been top of mind for many of our families — the District’s plans for providing more students the opportunity to learn in person every day and the NYU Equity Audit and how it relates to the District’s Strategic Plan.

Return to Full Time Learning

The headlines calling for the return of students who have been fully remote since March have caught the attention of parents around our region and have sparked many discussions about what a full return from hybrid learning might look like for our students. I want to assure you that the District and Board want our students to be able to return to normal as soon as you do. Speaking as a parent of four with children in preschool, elementary school and middle school, I share your frustrations and your concerns. I see the impacts the last 11 months have had on children at many levels of development. I also get to see the giant smiles that our kids wear on the days they return from their in-person days at school.

At our Board meeting, I was pleased to hear about the steps Dr. Champ and the District are taking toward developing a plan for returning to full-time in-person instruction in a measured and safe way and I look forward to hearing more detailed updates as they develop. Some of the plans include:

  • Beginning a prevalence testing program to monitor COVID-19 cases among student-athletes participating in high-risk sports and then expanding that program District-wide
  • Ascertaining the percentage of staff that have already been vaccinated and determining the timeline for when most staff will receive the vaccine
  • Further studying classroom space to determine what level of distancing would be possible if all students returned to in-person instruction
  • Consulting with Dr. Amler, Westchester County Department of Health Commissioner and local medical professionals to consider key metrics for when it is safe for more students to return to school, including infection rates, distancing recommendations, and how vaccinations play into these decisions. At the moment, the Westchester Department of Health continues to emphasize the need to adhere to 6-foot distancing and mask wearing.

Since the pandemic began, our District administrators led by Dr. Champ have worked tirelessly to be creative, flexible and responsive to the needs of our students and considerate of feedback from our community. They have looked carefully to see how we could return more of our youngest students to the classroom given the incredibly limited size of our District’s classrooms and I know they will continue this work.

At the beginning of this school year I made two commitments on behalf of the Board. One was that we would listen to the feedback of our teachers, parents and students, and adjust our plans as needed, where possible. The second was that the health and wellness of our students and staff would be at the forefront of our decision making process. I am confident that we can and will responsibly balance these two, sometimes competing factors, as we look to everything that gives us hope and shines a bright light at the end of this long tunnel.

Equity Audit

Over the past few weeks, there has been much discussion about the District’s equity audit and the NYU Metro Center in general. At our meeting, Dr. Champ shared a brief presentation that reviewed the District’s Strategic Plan goal of Cultural Competence. I want to reiterate that we as a Board are committed to the District’s Strategic Plan. The cultural competency goal fits squarely in the Board and District’s set of responsibilities; to ensure that every student has the chance to succeed, and that our schools exist to serve all of our students.

In developing our Strategic Plan in 2019, the Board received over 3,000 survey responses and conducted focus groups with key stakeholders. This engagement led directly to the formation of the three goal areas, including Cultural Competence. The equity audit is one data point of many that will shape how the District moves this work forward to accomplish this strategic goal. We are continuing to discuss the audit’s findings with the community in an effort to make sure all viewpoints are heard. Ultimately, the Board and District will decide what the best path forward is for our community and will do so in an inclusive way.

We live in difficult times and these are difficult topics. As we have since the start of this pandemic, we must continue to lean upon one another for support during these challenging times. We as a Board look forward to continuing our work together as one community united by common goals.


Jessica DeDomenico,

Board of Education President