To the Editor:
 
After publishing my opinions on the recent campaign to delay Bridgewater-Raritan school start times in a Dec. 18 Letter to the Editor, I have received an abundance of messages from fellow residents in Bridgewater and Raritan through social media, email, call and text expressing their dismay at the way in which the board of education has considered delaying school start times.
 
 
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Although I will be returning to the Boston area in mid-January to begin my spring semester at Boston College, I remain committed to organizing community support against the proposals under consideration by the BOE. While it is the BOE’s prerogative to make such a decision regarding the time(s) at which schools in the BRRSD should begin, it is a disappointing misuse of the public’s trust and mandate to make such an impactful decision without first reviewing all the relevant evidence.
 

Currently, the only information released by the BOE has been curated in such a way that only proposals which delay school start times are being seriously considered to support student well-being.

This is a dangerous procedural error, for multiple reasons:

  1. The BOE “panel of experts” claimed that any meaningful plan to delay school start times would require two or three years to properly implement. If the BOE votes to delay school start times during its January meeting (as it is currently expected to do with pressure from the superintendent), only eight months would be available for such implementation. 
  2. The BOE’s affirmative evidence for a delayed start time largely originates in other districts that have implemented their plans to combat excessive absenteeism, lower test scores and missing homework, despite the fact that there is no evidence that these serious problems exist in the BRRSD.  If the BOE votes to delay school start times, it would make Bridgewater-Raritan one of the first districts of its size and stature to delay start times for reasons other than excessive absenteeism, lower test scores and missing homework.
  3. The BOE, at the behest of the superintendent, has yet to acknowledge that if start times are delayed, many student athletes may be absent for portions of the afternoon in order to travel. If the BOE votes to delay school start times, these students may be at risk for missing substantial numbers of afternoon classes throughout the course of a season. 
  4. The BOE has yet to concede that studies from the Sleep Foundation, National Institute of Health and UC Irvine School of Medicine point to screen time as one of the primary causes of mental well-being issues relating to sleep and depression among teens. If the BOE votes to delay school start times without thoughtfully considering this evidence, it will be making a final decision without all the relevant data.  
  5. While the superintendent briefly mentioned limiting sport and band practices to a reasonable number of hours during the Dec. 17 BOE meeting, there is no evidence that such a proposal is under serious review.  If the BOE votes to delay school start times without considering plans akin to those mentioned during its public meetings, they would be ignoring more immediate, fiscally responsible and practical alternatives to a delay in school start times.
  6. Many teachers have observed that Google Doc timestamps show that students tend to be working at 1 a.m. or later on formal papers and other school work. There is a palpable concern among teachers that if the BOE votes to delay school start times, it will be complicit in exacerbation of these unhealthy study habits. 
  7. According to the BOE transportation consultant’s Dec. 10 presentation, he has yet to sincerely acknowledge the significant changes to drop-off and/or pick-up times which would result from the new tiered bussing systems that place buses in operation during rush-hour traffic. If the BOE votes to delay school start times, they would be overlooking the fact that their actions could have serious traffic implications for all residents, not just students. 

While these seven points are not meant to be an exhaustive list of the many ways in which the BOE has improperly moved forward with consideration of a delay in school start times, they should highlight an unfortunate truth: not all the key stakeholders relevant in this consideration are being included in the process.

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Whether it is students concerned about their athletic schedules, teachers worried about their commute to work, parents speculating about the effect of later school days on their family life/child care, tax-payers disturbed by the annual cost of new transportation plans or other residents fearful of increased traffic delays, the BOE should not just be holding forums and town halls about start time delay while ignoring alternate proposals, it should be carefully hearing, reviewing and acting upon the valid concerns of the Bridgewater-Raritan community.
 
Thank you to my former teachers, current and former students, and other members of the Bridgewater-Raritan community who have provided me with some of this information.
 
I invite all members of the Bridgewater-Raritan community to share their thoughts with me via email:
 
Sincerely,
 
Dennis Wieboldt
 
Bridgewater