This article was originally published in the Wayne Hills Patriot Press and shared with permission here.

WAYNE, NJ - During the pandemic, students have been struggling to connect with each other without in-person learning. In the wake of the new extended schedule that the Wayne Schools plan to implement this week, students have found a rallying cause to bring them together.

Starting Wednesday, January 27th, the district has decided to extend the school day by about 90 minutes, thus changing the original 12:03 end time to 1:25. This would cause a variety of problems for many students across the district, including work schedules, family care, and other family responsibilities.

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In a letter sent to parents, teachers, and students on Friday, Dr. Mark Toback justified the change by what he saw as a concern that students receive more instructional time during the pandemic.

“In short, there are no easy answers for many of the challenges and issues that have been identified by the community,” Toback wrote. “For example, for students to recover academically or to be prepared for the SAT and AP Exams, we need additional instructional time, but extra screen time is a concern,” he added, stating that the district is looking into ways to alleviate issues concerning screen time.

Student body President of the Class of 2022, Grace O’Neill created a petition titled, “Petition to keep schedule from 7:20-12:03,” to demonstrate the strong support from the Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley student body to keep the original schedule. With over 2,400 signatures in just four hours, this petition has gained significant traction in a very short amount of time.

“I’ve had to get a job because of [the pandemic] and now on top of that job, I also happen to have hours of homework and I only have a few days where I can spend time with my family or do other things that make me happy,” said O’Neill. “School already has way too much control over my life and how I spend my free time and I think these extra two hours would be detrimental to the mental health of Wayne students including myself.”

Students came together to write a collective message to the Board of Education, Dr. Mark Toback, superintendent, Michael Rewick, principal and Ken Palczewski, principal of Wayne Valley on behalf of the Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley student body.

“For many people within the district, this pandemic is quite literally a matter of life and death…  Everyone’s situation is different, and we cannot squander those who are struggling in a pandemic, as those are the people we should vehemently protect,” said Senior Emre Gormus, who helped organize the writing of the email.

Gormus was also impressed by the unity of the students across both Hills and Valley. “I find the unanimous solidarity within the student body to be somewhat beautiful. In a world where getting your voice heard is difficult, the  students really showed passion in representing the needs of students who otherwise wouldn’t have a voice.”

“Paying attention for the allotted 40 minutes has already been a near-Herculean task, extending it to 50 is extremely unreasonable,” commented student Deepak Sathish. “Furthermore, this proposal impacts those with jobs taken to support their families and other extracurriculars done to distract from the world on fire immensely. It is also unfair to have taken this decision without consulting those whom it would affect most directly. The BOE must be made aware that they cannot just change things without asking the student body they claim to be looking out for. “

While many of the students understand the argument for extending the school day an extra two hours, the vast majority of Wayne Hills students believe that it is unnecessary and will ultimately be detrimental to their learning process.