BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The content of emails regarding a survey on later school start times has led to some question about the viability of said surveys.
Bridgewater-Raritan Education Association President Laura Kress spoke during the public session at the board of education’s Jan. 6 meeting, and started off by saying that she is in favor of reasonable starting times for the schools.
The last several months of public board meetings have seen a general public push to allow students, especially in the middle and high schools, to start school later in the morning, by a half-hour or so, to accommodate ongoing changes in their biology.
Kress questioned what she said had been a lack of transparency and integrity in the process of gathering information, and said she had recently been delivered a 28-page letter that involved a community member who she did not name, but who is apparently in favor of a start time change. Also involved in the email exchange covered in the letters, according to Kress, were the superintendent and one or two school board members.
Kress said the letter was available through the public domain, and then asked the board if it was true that the community member in question had been the one who had created a survey on the start time matter, which had then been sent out to the public and to educators.
Kress said teachers had not been aware of who wrote the survey when they filled it out, and they also did not know if the questions on the survey had been validated beforehand. She also asked what credentials the writer held to legitimately compose the survey.
She then added that former board president Jill Gladstone and superintendent Russell Lazovick had been involved, and she asked if they had shared the survey information with the entire board. She said she also wondered if the survey had been approved by the board in an open or closed session.
“Maybe I’m wrong,” said Kress, “but it’s clear to me this person made the surveys.”
She added that no committee had been formed, ostensibly to study the situation. According to the letter, the information culled from the surveys would have been kept private and later released at the right time, but supposedly just the answers to certain questions would be revealed, and not those that were against school start times being changed, she said.
“I really need these questions answered,” said Kress. “Is this true?”
She said she had pored over the document three or four times, and added that was how the situation had looked to her, that the person in question had gotten the go-ahead to move forward with the surveys. She also said that a shared Google document, which listed information from the newest to the oldest on the start times matter, had not been included in the 28 pages she had received.
“This is the most monumental change the district has faced,” said Kress. “We couldn’t hire a professional?”
She also brought up the notion of school busing times, which had been presented to the board in a manner that showcased very expensive options. She said compromise is what had originally been sought, and that she would reserve future comments, but she also inquired if the busing times and information had been accurate.
Kress said the community member involved had supposedly gone to the home of a school board member to determine how to present the information, and she wondered if the bus times that had been given were untrue.
“It’s okay to upset people and put out a ploy?” asked Kress.
She added she had spent 15 years herself working as an educational grievance officer, and that the New Jersey Education Association was now looking at the 28 pages in question. She told the board members she liked them as people, and believed they loved children and were passionate about helping them, but the recent information gave her pause.
“This behind-the-scenes ridiculousness is too much,” Kress said. “The truth must be known.”
Cynthia Nurse, a teacher at Adamsville Primary School, said she had also received such a document, one that was 48 pages in length.
“’Disappointed’ is not the word I felt,” said Nurse.
She said she also felt the board should be fair and transparent in its dealings, and said that very little information had been presented about children in the primary grades, whom she said need 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night.
“No one’s talking about that,” said Nurse, with middle and high school schedules ostensibly to be switched with primary school ones, to give the former groups more sleep in the mornings.
Nurse said she understands the aspects of mental health that have been touched on in discussions about changing school start times, but added that family time is equally important.
Kress took the microphone a second time, and said that district staff members had read the document, and she hoped the board members had done so as well. She also asked how the public could believe in transparency after what had transpired with the survey information.
“Is this an anomaly,” asked Kress, “or the tip of the iceberg?”
She asked if all the board members were aware of what had been going on, to which one member said they had not.
“In the future, you may be on the other side,” said Kress to the audience.
Kress said trust has been affected, and added that, in the future, information has to be “on board” and “100 percent out there.”
She suggested the formation of a committee with faculty, students and board members, and added that honesty and integrity are paramount in a number one-ranked school district.
“Somebody allowed this,” said Kress, without mentioning specific names.
After the board began its own discussion on possibly changing start times, board member Lynne Hurley said she had opened up the document the previous night, and had scrolled through it.
“Some of what I read shocked me,” she said.
Board member Zachary Malek said he had gotten an email, and didn’t know if he could trust the survey, while member Ann Marie Mead said she questioned the survey results.
Lazovick said information had been shared with the board members and with other superintendents in the county.
He spoke of one public group that had been very vocal about the topic of homework, and as a result an action team had been developed and many talks had been had by the board as a whole.
Concerning emails, Lazovick said he had reviewed everything himself.
“I stand by the data,” he said.
With regard to the survey on start times, it had been culled from different pieces of data, and open-ended questions were not answered or not included.
“It wasn’t hidden, or given to certain people,” said Lazovick.
He added that the district had been “taking heat” from both sides of the start times dilemma – that the administration was moving too quickly on the matter for some, and moving too slowly for others. He also said the matter had been reviewed when time allowed, with the board, staff and the public.
“Everything has been made available,” he said.
He added that conversations have been held with stakeholders, and have been transparent.
“I’ve tried to answer every question asked,” said Lazovick.
He said people either like the idea of changing start times or they don’t, while some have “stopped listening and started vilifying.”
Local resident J.P Levin spoke during the second public portion of the meeting and called the survey situation “embarrassing.”
The board is continuing its discussion on the matter, with no decision being made yet.