Metuchen school officials address excessive screen time concerns

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METUCHEN – In response to concerns of excessive screen time due to the current Metuchen High School schedule, Metuchen Board of Education members and school administrators are reviewing district model methods and issues of homework.

Students formed the Metuchen High School student coalition and attended the Board of Education [BOE] meeting on Feb. 9 to request that the board modify the six-hour current schedule to half-day sessions and include what other district’s have implemented including Wellness Wednesdays.

They said the current schedule, while welcome in non-pandemic times, is leading to “screen time fatigue, depression and an overwhelmingly lack of drive to continue school.”

The coalition circulated a survey that reached 305 students with 97% welcoming a change in the schedule.

Board members said the district’s hybrid in-person schedule is a constant discussion.

“This is a fluid situation, nothing is set in stone,” Board Vice President Chris Derflinger said.

Board member Dan Benderly said he sympathizes and empathizes with the students. He said his work day consists of Zoom meetings and it is very draining.

Board President Brian Glassberg said he appreciated the comments from the students. He said the BOE and district officials have been working hard in finding a balance between concerns from the coalition and those who want in-person instruction and those who want more direct instruction.

He said they requested Schools Superintendent Vincent Caputo to look at the district’s “I do, you do, we do’ plan model, which allows students a portion of each class period an opportunity to be off screen and work independently and look into the possibility of “no homework” days.

Caputo said he was proud of the coalition of students who came to address concerns. He said he is confident of the current alternate A week, B week “roomers and Zoomers” hybrid in-person calendar, which the district began in October, as well as the district’s coronavirus mitigation strategies of social distancing, wearing masks, ventilation and the offering of COVID-19 testing.

“I can assure you I’m dedicated to mental health,” he said. “We have as many mental health services than any other school district. We added counselors, mental health clinicians and additional child study members. We partnered with Effective School Solutions and Rutgers Behavioral Health. We have individual and group family counseling available.”

In 2019, school officials in Metuchen made moves in their efforts to address mental health programing and emotional support for all their students. In the November election that year, voters approved the BOE’s separate budget proposal, or second question, of $700,000 for the proposal to increase its school psychologist services; implement a therapeutic program at Campbell Elementary School and Edgar Middle School; increase behavioral support services; increase academic supports and intervention; increase supports and intervention for learning strategies district-wide; and clerical assistance.