To the Editor:

On De. 17, I attended a Bridgewater-Raritan board of education meeting to learn about the process with which proposals to delay school start times were being reviewed. Much to my dismay, it seemed as though the board, at that time, was within weeks of approving a substantial delay to start times for the upcoming school year.

Understanding the serious implications of a delay on student-athletes, low-income families, those with disabilities, vocational students and the community at large, I decided to mobilize community support against the board’s proposals until a more robust deliberative process could take place.

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After publishing a Dec. 18 letter to the editor, which detailed an alumnus’s concerns about the proposed delay, I was met with incredible encouragement, and sharp condemnation. Despite the unproductive (and often demeaning) dialogue which unfolded between staunch defenders of the delay and those who questioned the efficacy of the board proposals, I remained committed to advocating for a transparent and robust deliberative process.

While myself and many others have been the subject of harmful rhetoric because of our advocacy, I rest assured knowing that those in support of a more transparent and robust process never met insults with insults.

Since the Dec. 17 board meeting, hundreds of parents, teachers, students and everyday residents have expressed their dissatisfaction with the way in which this process has unfolded. Although supporters of the movement which I helped to initiate have not questioned the science behind a delayed start time, we have, with due evidence, questioned whether or not now was the right time for a delay, especially considering that critical facets of the district are still in need of improvement.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of our community, the board has finally decided to create a formal community action team to review the prospect of a delayed start time, effectively eliminating the chances of implementation for next school year.

While the detrimental effects of this divisive process will likely remain, the memory of 2020 delayed school start times should remind us of the importance of respect, accountability and transparency in our local government.

Simply put, this once well-intentioned plan to improve the mental wellbeing of our district’s students created a systematic campaign to disenfranchise those in opposition and dismantle the basic understandings of respect to which we should all be committed. Whether it was capitalizing upon demonstrably false accusations to impugn the reputation of dissenters, or using demeaning rhetoric on social media (i.e. “... stop word vomiting, child”) as a common foundation on which to build resistance, it is time to remember that basic decency and respect should never be forgotten, no matter how passionate we may feel.

Throughout this process, the importance of accountability in our local government has also come to the forefront. As evident in the fact that some delay supporters often questioned the right of certain non-parent members of the community to have a role in this conversation, there is serious concern about our ability to hold Bridgewater-Raritan elected officials accountable. If residents suddenly believe that others who live and work in our community (but disagree on an issue) suddenly should not have the ability to express their opinions, we will face serious challenges in holding our elected representatives accountable.

Finally, the systematic issues of transparency which have plagued this discussion should remind our community that we must keep a keen eye toward the truth. Since the beginning of this process, many teachers, parents of athletes and even students have felt excluded because of the secretive nature of the board’s deliberation. While public meetings and other such events have been held, the revealing board emails which were released publicly on Jan. 6 show that, despite claims of transparency, much of this process has developed behind closed doors.

Ultimately, it is my sincere hope that this discussion over school start times can come to an agreeable conclusion, in due course. Now that the board has officially created a community action team and is meaningfully interfacing with other key stakeholders, I have confidence that the requisite information will be gathered regarding the impacts of a delay before a final decision is rendered.

No matter what the Board’s final decision is, the memory of 2020 delayed school start times should remind us of the importance of respect, accountability and transparency in our local government.

Sincerely,

Dennis Wieboldt

Bridgewater