WEST ORANGE, NJ — Because details of the revamped winter virtual schedule were leaked inadvertently prior to Monday's West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE) meeting, several West Orange High School students rallied to keep the virtual schedule as is.
The proposed WOHS schedule, which was presented officially by Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Eveny de Mendez, adds Friday as a synchronous day and lengthens classes to an hour and shortens breaks to 10 minutes between every hour-block except blocks 2 and 3, which has a 30-minute break which would have extended the virtual day by 20 minutes.
It was also suggested that to be reflective of the rotating drop schedule used at the high school, blocks would rotate on Monday to Wednesday and Tuesday to Thursday.
At Roosevelt and Liberty middle schools, classes will be 40 minutes and advisory and homeroom will be cut to allow more time for content areas. And at Edison Middle School class time will be increased to one hour.
Schedules at the elementary schools are still a work in progress.
Board Liaison Andree Celestin mentioned that she and other students found the asynchronous Friday useful as a day to de-stress, but others look forward to Friday as a day to work extra hours.
“The pandemic was definitely a stress on a lot of people and on a lot of their families, so they ended up picking up jobs and picking up the morning shift for Fridays,” she said. “I know that school is our main priority, but some people really do need this right now and they need to go to work.”
During public comment, WOHS senior Juliette Figliuolo, who started a petition on change.org—which currently has approximately 1,600 signatures—to keep the current virtual schedule, added that in addition to using the day to catch up on work, seniors have felt increased pressure needing to work, participating in sports, and have applications finished by the end of the year.
Another WOHS senior Rachel Brody commented that while she understood the need to focus on content, she did not understand why the district was “trying to set up a similar education system to what we had.”
She continued that her mental health was “drastically affected by being at home” and not being able to interact with her classmates and teachers. On the asynchronous day, Brody would work one-on-one with her teachers during their office hours and get the mental break she needed.
“I just feel like it shouldn’t really only be about the content,” Brody continued. “I understand that this is school, but you’re also talking about people’s lives and their mental stability and their health and that should be considered when making such drastic decisions like taking away the only day we had to take a rest from the crazy situation that we’re in right now.”
In response West Orange Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Cascone said that although the district will not “exactly meet the needs of every single student,” it still has the responsibility to “meet students where they are and to try and be as flexible and as empathetic to the situations in which they find themselves.”
And on Tuesday, Nov. 17, Cascone sent out a letter to WOHS parents indicating that the high school administration has been asked "to pause the implementation of the revised schedule originally planned for implementation on Monday, November 23.”
The letter continued that a survey will be administered to families and students to inform the district on the current instructional model and how it is serving the "academic, social and emotional needs of the student body." The results of the survey will ultimately determine if the high school schedule will receive any adjustments.
During the meeting, Board President Ken Alper empathized with the students who commented, but he added that not everyone is having the same experience.
“I think for some people four half days is clearly not enough instruction,” he said. “There’s some more discussion that the administration is going to have and figure out what works and what doesn’t.”
The next virtual WOBOE meeting will be Monday, Dec. 7 at 7:30 p.m.