Virtual Schedule Changes & The Student Voice

Original+new+winter+virtual+schedule

Original new winter virtual schedule

Camille Bugayong

On November 16th, the West Orange School District released a new virtual schedule for students. These schedule changes follow the announcement made on November 5th stating the district was to pause the implementation of the hybrid model due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases not just in the state, but in the West Orange Community itself. However, instead of changes that would result in an easier workday and further transition into this new normal way of learning, the district took an already wearying schedule and managed to make it even more draining, in particular, for the students of West Orange High School. This change increases the school day by twenty-five minutes, shortens the fifteen-minute breaks in between classes to ten minutes, enforces rotating periods, and creates a new lab schedule that ranges from Monday to Thursday. Perhaps even more appalling is the elimination of asynchronous Fridays, a day for which many students feel they get a break from hours of zoom classes throughout the week and allow themselves to work at their own pace. 

However, within hours of the release of the new schedule, a petition on change.org began circulating to keep the current schedule. The power of social media came through and the link to the petition was spread throughout the community, and within days it had amassed over one thousand signatures. But this was not the only form of protest that occurred. Comments on recent posts flooded the West Orange Schools Instagram account with complaints about the schedule changes. Moreover, on November 16th, the same day the schedule was released, a public Board of Education meeting took place where several high school students and parents voiced their opinions and worries over the new schedule for grades 9-12.  

In this new life of learning, can students really be blamed for fighting for their school schedule? From Monday to Thursday, high schoolers are expected to wake up before the sun rises, attend classes starting at 7:30 AM, and sit in front of their computers back to back for hours on end and try their best to learn through a screen, all by themselves. Furthermore, many students have lives outside of school ranging from activities, sports, and jobs that would have been disrupted by the extra time added to the school day. Additionally, the switch to synchronous Fridays would have resulted in yet another repeat of the same day students have to go through every week. To many, asynchronous Fridays are the one day students are relieved of the cycle of Zoom classes and sitting in one spot for nearly five hours a day. The mental health of a multitude of students is also at stake. The effects of sitting in front of a screen disconnected from other people are not healthy for anyone, and with teachers giving fewer breaks during class, how are students expected to keep going? In reality, the school district failed to take all of these reasons into account when making these changes, and one look at the news will reveal that this new “normal” doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.

In a letter released on November 17th addressed to the West Orange High School Families, the Superintendent of Schools Dr. Cascone put forth his reasons for the schedule changes. He wrote, “Understanding that students will continue to receive instruction via a virtual model for a prolonged period of time, I charged the school leadership to revise the current schedules, to include additional and focused time for the core content areas. The high school administrative team moved forward in developing a modified schedule which they felt represented a balance between student and staff welfare and the directive with which they were given.”

A survey is soon to be administered to the families of West Orange too, as Dr. Cascone’s letter states that they “seek input as to ways in which the current instructional model is serving the academic, social and emotional needs of the student body.” Following the release of this survey, it is important for students to communicate with their parents or guardians on how they truly feel about the virtual schedule and school in general. The only way schools can and should make decisions in the future is by hearing the truth from the students. 

Updated winter virtual schedule

The student voice should never be overlooked. In a time of crisis and confusion, it is vital for students to speak up about what they need to best benefit them. The impact of the petition created a chain reaction of high schoolers voicing what’s best for their future learning and this community can only hope that this attitude will continue. 

On November 17th, a new schedule for Winter Virtual Learning was released. Classes have still been extended by five minutes and breaks between classes are still ten minutes long. However, asynchronous Fridays are to stay, periods will rotate normally, and lab schedules will remain the same on Fridays. To many high school students, this seems to be a win. 

The Board of Education made a quick change to schedules for which the students’ voices are most likely to thank. Moving forward, West Orange can only hope that the school district continues to listen and that students continue to speak out and stand up for the better of the community.