Schedule change timing negates school progress

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Spencer Saltz, Staff Writer

For students at Bernards High School, routine and consistency are the two most important parts of everyday life. Students have spent the past 8 months becoming accustomed to an early morning wake-up, school start time of 7:55, end time of 12:15, instructional support until 2:45 and then work or sports following the school day. While it is important to eventually get back to    a full day, as students need to return back to the norms of the past, a return to a full day school schedule does not make sense for this year.

With the return to school on a full day schedule many students are questioning the possible decision. While some may have expected controversy  about the proposed schedule, Dr. Dempsey stated  ], “These decisions are complex and the administration always carefully considers all perspectives. I make decisions with lots of input from the principals. In terms of BHS, I know that Dr. Neigel has been discussing this with teacher and student representatives.”  

Senior Camille Chatwin created a petition because she feels that “the students at large never asked for their input and [she] wanted to see if the student body agreed with the change”. The petition on change.org  has already been signed by 987 people at the time of writing. This petition was created against the full day schedule, with parents and students giving their two-cents on the issue. 

Mary Snyder, parent to two BHS students, gave a statement in the comment section, saying, “Keep high school at early dismissal at 12:15. If there is pressure from parents of middle schoolers to go full day, move BMS to the extended day. High schoolers have actively participated in instructional support time, have much more homework, more need for study time, have after school sports and employment. The upperclassmen in particular do not benefit from this extended day particularly with AP exams beginning next month.” 

In addition, students and parents have voiced concerns regarding the following:

1. Class length: The biggest issue brought up was the new length of class time with a full day schedule. Instead of the 35 minutes, each period would be almost 15 minutes longer in the full day, rotating schedule. This increase will add approximately 110 minutes to each class through the end of the year. As a result of COVID-19, teachers have largely remained in place while teaching their classes, and lessons have been altered due to social distancing and restrictions. That increase, while coupled with current restrictions, does not give teachers enough time to start a new unit or facilitate new interactive activities or make up for perceived “lost time”. 

In addition, an extension of time chained to a desk, specifically after an 80 minute lunch interruption to student schedules, seems illogical, especially in a time of the school year where students’ interest is winding down. Dr. Neigel stated, however, “Teachers have already been teaching two periods of the day for 50 minutes, so I do not see much difference between how they conducted those periods and how they will teach all periods at 48/49 minutes.”

2. Lunch period: In order to facilitate a safe lunch period, many restrictions have been placed on students.  Dr. Neigel explained that “Lunch will be a short, structured lunch that is broken up by grade. Students will take their masks off only to eat while facing forward in desks with a plastic divider. Students will not be permitted to socialize during the lunch period. When one grade is eating, the other grades will be socially distanced in other large areas with masks on.  Seniors will be able to leave campus with senior privilege, but neither seniors nor underclassmen will be permitted to eat outside on school grounds as we are not able to properly supervise and ensure social distancing.”

This kind of lunch period would switch up the whole day, as students would be eating in intervals, while those not eating would be in different parts of the school. In fact, students will be spending more time in a study hall than any other class during the day. One of the most interesting parts of this schedule is students not being able to eat their lunches outside due to the lack of supervision to ensure social distancing. The argument of students being in dividers and away from others seems like a reasonable idea, but taking away the interaction from students during lunch hurts the whole experience. 

3. Safety and Exposure: Superintendent Dr. Dempsey commented on the issue of continued socially distant protocols: “I have been in classes this year where teachers moved around a lot, and others where teachers did not.  This is a matter of a teacher’s own comfort level; teachers have never been told they ‘must stay away from students.’  We anticipate that teachers’ collective comfort may increase as teachers are vaccinated, but in any classroom this is a matter of personal teacher choice.” 

While teachers were never told to “stay away from students” they were in fact told to try to keep social distance from the students in their classrooms. While some teachers may have an excess of space, others do not have that luxury. There are many classrooms where teachers, who usually try to change their instructional design every twenty minutes, are locked up at their desks. Many teachers can’t even walk up and down the aisle of their own classroom without being within three feet of their students. This would limit the variety of activities that a teacher could employ to engage students in a now extended period of time. Somerset county is in the “Very high exposure rate” zone according to The New York Times as of April 23, so extending the possibility of exposures during an extended school day seems like an unwarranted risk.

This uproar of support for the continuation of the half-day schedule for the remainder of the year will hopefully assert itself as a motion to listen to the student body and parents as well. The 2021-2022 school year is a logical time to change the scheduling and start a transition to full days, especially since it won’t throw off the routine of hundreds of students. Although the popular notion is to return to the norms of the past, instituting this change on May 10 is an unwise decision with no worthwhile benefits. The best choice for the school is to hold out on the idea of full day schooling until next school year.