To the Editor:

As an alumnus of the Bridgewater-Raritan High School, older brother to a student in the district and voting resident in Martinsville, I am deeply troubled by the board’s proposed solutions to the issue of school start times.

In speaking to the board during the Dec. 17 public meeting, I expressed my sincere thanks that the board is thoughtfully reviewing compelling scientific evidence which connects mental well-being to proper sleep schedules. Nonetheless, it is disappointing that the superintendent, a staunch supporter of delayed school start times, has failed to recognize the importance of interrogating the issue of student well-being in a more creative fashion, especially considering that annual estimates for new transportation routes range from $594,000 to $3,136,591.

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It is the board’s solemn responsibility to remain cognizant of the significant logistical and financial impact that a delayed school start time may have on students, families and tax-payers; however, it seems as though an expedited schedule for S.Y. 2020-2021 implementation risks thwarting the consideration of less expensive alternatives to a delayed start time.

After a thoughtful review of the publicly-released evidentiary record, it seems as though interest in delayed school start times is a product of concerns over the mental well-being of students in the district. As evidenced by the significant amount of resources devoted to developing the five plans currently before the board, delaying school start times is seen as the only way to solve this issue of mental well-being.

As an alumnus of the high school, I am all too aware that this is a flawed assumption. I admire Mr. Lazovick’s commitment to supporting mental well-being and his interest in making the district a leader in primary/secondary public education, but it is troubling that the major proposals under consideration by the board aim at supporting student mental well-being exclusively by delaying school start times.

I am especially concerned at the board’s willingness to expedite this process in light of the fact that the superintendent, as clear at the Dec. 17 BOE meeting, has failed to meaningfully acknowledge that other underlying issues contribute to the problem of student mental well-being (i.e. technology overuse).

Unfortunately, the board, in large part, has decided to ignore these foundational reasons for mental well-being problems under the auspice that there are certain facts of 21st-century life which are out of its control.

While this observation may be valid, it does not excuse the board from its solemn responsibility to exhaust all available means of supporting mental well-being before making substantial changes to the financial and logistical workings of the district. Although including health and wellness in the District Strategic Goals and adding information on wellness throughout the district website are important first steps in addressing concerns over mental well-being, they do not constitute a serious effort to examine other solutions before delaying start times.

The board’s claim that it is moving in a cautious manner is not evidenced by the proportion of resources, both financial and otherwise, they have placed in delayed start time proposals as compared to any others. Despite the superintendent’s claim that the board has garnered a vast body of data for its work, he has failed to recognize that nearly every piece of evidence available for review focuses exclusively on delaying school start times. In fact, the only discussion of alternatives to such proposals by board members Mead and Hurley were, for all intensive purposes, dismissed by the superintendent under the guise that they would not allow for a school start time of 8:30 a.m. as recommended by the American
Academy of Pediatrics. Similarly, the superintendent has all but admitted that the effect of delaying school start times on athletic programs and other extracurricular activities is irrelevant in this process, discounting the impact that a delayed start time would have on valuable extracurricular programs.

Unfortunately, it seems as though this well-intentioned plan to delay school start times has progressed at the behest of the calendar, failing to consider, for example, other board policies relating to the late arrival program, meaningful homework, end-of-day study halls, Option II and period 0/10 utilization. Despite the fact that the board recently approved a new homework policy, for example, interest in implementing a new school start time by S.Y. 2020–2021 will not allow for the board to collect and review evidence on how this change is affecting students.

Of the many current and former students, parents, teachers and taxpayers I have spoken to in the district, there is serious concern that the board has inappropriately narrowed its focus on delaying school start times by dismissing other procedural means by which student mental well-being can be improved.

In light of the board’s failure to thoughtfully scrutinize other district improvements, ones which do not require such extraordinary changes to the logistical workings of the district and its families, residents in Bridgewater and Raritan have cause for concern. While the board may very well decide that delaying school start times is the best way to encourage student success, that decision should only be made in light of more immediate, concrete and practical proposals set forth by students, parents, teachers and other members of the community, which take into account the financial and logistical ramifications of a delay in start times.

The calendar should not be making this decision, the people should.

Sincerely,

Dennis Wieboldt

Bridgewater