The Whitman-Hanson School Committee will be discussing issues of inclusion — from a proposed single-color graduation robe to a request to change start times as a way of fostering the physical and mental health of students.
The issues were brought up Wednesday, June 8 during the committee’s public comment period, when the public is invited to address topics not on the agenda.
Whitman resident, Annie Gray of Whiting Avenue raised the issue of start times.
“It’s incredibly important, so I fully support that,” she said, but her main reason for commenting was to determine what would need to happen to push back the start of the high school day.
Classes currently start at 7:05 a.m., “which is incredibly early,” she said.
“I’m here, primarily, as a professional,” said Gray, who operates a private psycho-therapy practice in Whitman, specializing in treating adolescents. “I’m treating your students. … Additionally, I’m a parent in town with three kids who go to the public schools here. … It’s been very difficult to observe the schedule that these students are put under.”
Her daughter is a freshman at the high school and is a member of a sports team. Gray said that, whether teens are just focused on being a student, take part in sports, other extra curricular activities or work — either because they want to or their family needs them to — it takes a toll.
“We are asking these students to do something that is physically unhealthy, that is mentally unhealthy,” she said. “Most of your students are waking up in the 5 a.m. hour.”
As a therapist, Gray said the data proves over and over that sleep is very important for many medical problems as well as three mental health areas: anxiety, depression and ADHD.
“They’re all greatly impacted by sleep deprivation,” she said, advocating that the start time be included in upcoming workshops related to the school district’s strategic plan.
“I’m sure we’ll be having both those topics on the agenda for future meetings,” Scriven said. Public comment is intended to permit residents to address issues not included in the agenda for the meeting. Because Chairman Christopher Howard attended the meeting remotely, Scriven conducted the meeting.
“Start times have been an issue since we were in first grade,” said Roberts, who is a junior at W-H. “We’ve been writing small essays about waking up early.”
He said he feels very strongly about the issue as a student who doesn’t get as much sleep as he should because of work schedules and studying — and he feels he manages his time fairly well.
“It really drains you after a while, especially if you have sports in the afternoon as well,” he said, noting if student voices were heard, it would be a hopeful sign for them.
Whitman Select Board member Justin Evans raised the issue of gender-neutral colors for W-H graduation robes. Traditionally, the school colors of red and black are divided by gender — girls wear red and boys wear black — creating another awkward situation for non-binary, gender non-conforming and trans students, especially those with less understanding families.
Gray, who is also a social worker, echoed Evans’ request.
“I noticed a practice at last year’s graduation that is kind of at odds with this committee’s commitment to equity and inclusion,” Evans said, noting he was unable to attend this year, as his wife had recently given birth to their first child. “W-H is one of the only districts that still genders their graduation robes. … It’s a practice that most South Shore communities have gone away from.”
Evans had congratulated the district on another successful graduation in prefacing his comments. He said his wife’s high school had recently switched to a single color robe with representations of both school colors on it.
“It seems a lot of districts are going that way,” he said, asking the district to “do right by our students” during Pride month with a whole year before the next graduation.
Student Advisory Committee member Noah Roberts said a lot of students agree with Evans and have expressed the same thought.
“This year, I think there was some flexibility within the graduation robes,” Roberts said. “I know that there were some girls who decided to wear black because it made them feel more comfortable. … But I don’t know how open that is.”