Memo to Cherry Hill middle- and high-schoolers: Don’t plan on sleeping in next year.
Despite protests from a number of parents and one student, Cherry Hill’s school board unanimously ratified a new contract with the Cherry Hill Education Association (CHEA) Monday night, which includes pushing the start of the school day to 7:30 a.m. for the district’s high schools and 8 a.m. for the middle schools starting with the 2013-2014 school year.
District officials touted it as a move to expand learning opportunities and give students more instructional time, even as a vocal group of parents hammered them over concerns ranging from sleep deprivation to decreased academic performance.
School board President Seth Klukoff spoke at length on the decision to add 30 minutes to the school day, and said the school board weighed all the implications of the move, which he noted will affect board members’ children, just as it will other students in the district.
“In the end, we realized the benefits of adding the 30 minutes…outweighed any of the challenges,” Klukoff said.
But the choice to add those 30 minutes to the beginning of the day, rather than the end—a choice made at least in part to preserve extracurricular activities and ensure students could continue holding after-school jobs, according to Klukoff—was met with the most criticism.
“It’s not uncommon for me to walk into school and hear someone say they’re running off of three hours of sleep or less,” said Noah Ritz, a sophomore at Cherry Hill East. Forcing students to be in school even earlier would be even more detrimental, Ritz said.
“Students will be more tired and will practically be zombies for the entire day, not just that first half-hour,” he said.
Parent after parent stressed the potential issues stemming from shifting the school day earlier, citing studies that show teens are more likely to suffer from depression with a shift to an earlier start, among other potential problems.
“7:30 is too early for teens—it’s biological,” Stephani Kasdin said. “Those who are sleep-deprived cannot attain the high standards that we have come to expect in Cherry Hill…we need quality education, not quantity.”
But, as Superintendent Maureen Reusche pointed out, many districts in the surrounding area start the school day between 7:20 a.m. and 7:35 a.m.
“We are not the only district where students would begin their day earlier,” she said. “I firmly believe that any additional time we can provide for students and teachers to interact will yield positive results.”
Further, Cherry Hill clocks in below the state average in instructional time. At six hours, 30 minutes, the district is about 24 minutes below the state average, and as Reusche pointed out, schools in the top 10 for academic achievement range between six hours, 35 minutes of classroom time to eight hours, 35 minutes.
Beyond concerns over the start time, the school board also took some heat for the late announcement of the plan to expand the school day—the news only broke Friday—though Klukoff defended it as part of the negotiations with CHEA, which he said needed to remain between the school board and the union to keep the negotiations in good faith.