BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The issue of pushing back school start times in the Bridgewater-Raritan school district continues, with parents keeping the conversation alive at board of education meetings.
Parent Jessica Levitt, who has two children in the district and who has long championed pushing back school start times so that local high school and middle school students especially can get more rest, said at the school board’s Nov. 19 meeting that she wanted to commend the administration for its efforts to educate the community and its stakeholders on the topic.
She questioned the timing of the issue, and wondered if a change would be brought about early enough to be ready for the 2020-2021 school year. She said students are still at risk at present, and asked what other information the board and district still need, especially following a recent public forum that featured several medical experts who spoke on the subject.
Levitt admitted that some students might be thriving under the current set-up, with earlier start times, but added “that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem.”
She said the board should be able to make a decision, and said she believes the only real reason it hasn’t is to allow time to adjust, which she said will be needed regardless.
“It’s time to rip off the band-aid,” said Levitt, adding that most students are probably only getting six to six-and-a half hours of sleep nightly.
She said doctors suggest starting school no earlier than 8:30 a.m., although she understands if financial considerations make an 8:15 a.m. start more feasible. She also said that the health benefits are proportional to the amount of time the start of the school day is delayed.
“Something is desperately needed,” she said.
Parent Meredith Estomata said she is also in favor of later school start times, and added that she is living with the impact of the current start times. She said her daughter is “exhausted,” and that her son is “not the same kid in the morning.”
Estomata added that her children come home from school exhausted on a daily basis, and that it is a “struggle every day,” with her daughter waiting out in the dark every morning for the school bus to arrive.
“Extra time in the morning would help a great deal,” Estomata said.
Board member Zachary Malek said that pushing back the start of the school day will also push back school-related activities by as much as an hour, and that students will still have to deal with the same amount of homework.
“Where do they have time to sleep?” he asked.
Board member A.J. Joshi mentioned changing schedules, to perhaps a block type of schedule, with fewer classes each day for longer periods of time, while Malek replied that students will still be getting home later, with no more additional sleep.
“Everyone will have a different opinion,” said board member Steven Singer
Superintendent Russell Lazovick said the health of everyone is now being sacrificed. He added that changes have been made to the district’s homework policy, and feedback on that matter is still coming in.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said.
He also said he has been speaking with the county and the conference about athletic scheduling, about changing school start times and about perhaps having more streamlined athletic practices conducted on a daily basis.
Board president Jill Gladstone spoke about possibly auditing school extracurricular activities.
“We want to be competitive,” she said, “but we want to be healthy.”
Board member Barry Walker said students would do better athletically if they got more sleep, while board member Ann Marie Mead said the board is “talking hypotheticals.”
Walker added that there would be an adjustment period if the start times changed, and Gladstone ended the conversation by saying that communication and education are the keys, with e-mails to be sent to parents and students.