Letter: Star Wars, school start times, and logic

EastBayRI.com ·

To the editor:

‘Tis the season for reflection, so I’ll start by saying I am grateful to live in a town where a “story about how something was thought to be a story but actually isn’t” makes front page news. (Personally though, I think the police department’s Toys for Tots drive, being an actual event that helps needy families, was far worthier of the page 1 spot.)

When Josh contacted me for his article last week (“Meeting agenda ignites school start time debate”) we talked, he researched what I said, and then he called back to say everything I told him had been confirmed — but that he’d run the story anyway because it “clears things up and hopefully can kinda quiet things down a little bit.”

I applaud that goal, but to do so fully I said he should also reach out to Lisa Daft and get a sense of the grievances she aired in public comment at the last school committee meeting. Dr. Daft’s comments didn’t make the 3 full columns devoted to the story, but they are available for anyone who wants to give them a fair hearing on the SC website (go to the 28:20 minute point at https://livestream.com/accounts/3477700/events/2697138/videos/167254502). To finish clearing the air, Josh might have also mentioned the numerous letters to the editor the Barrington Times ran this last summer by Scott Fuller, Joel Helleman, and others — each expressing outrage and alleging generally unethical behavior, all of which rhyme with Dr. Daft’s comments and those of Mr. Rimoshytus last week.

So let me help finish “clearing the air” and set our collective minds at ease as we enter the New Year.

Over the summer, I sent the Rhode Island Ethics Commission the full text of these letters to the editor and asked if there was any substance to the complaints. They found no merit in them whatsoever. Turns out I am just as free to express my views as any other citizen (I am paraphrasing — so feel free to read the official finding here: http://www.ethics.ri.gov/advisory/individual/2017/2017-044.htm). Last week Josh researched the newest variant of these attacks and found no story there either.

The air should be clear. To paraphrase Luke Skywalker facing Kylo Ren’s self-deluding rage, “Amazing. Every word of what they just alleged was wrong.”

In that same holiday spirit, I propose a collective New Year’s resolution: let’s debate our ideas using logic, rather than personal attacks. Continually seeking the best for our children is too important to be petty.

So to get us started, here’s a short logical Q&A on why I think School Start Time Change (SST for short) is an overdue imperative.

A majority in town is for it. Evidence: Kate Brody ran on an explicit promise to make the change happen — and got more votes than her challengers who didn’t. Anna Clancy ran on this plank (twice) and Megan Douglas (my wife) certainly did — and both got more votes than Gina Pine, who opposes it. To the extent SST was a factor in the COA vote last spring, the people who clearly stood for it, clearly won — and those who did not, including Dr. Daft, lost.

“Ok, but this isn’t a popularity contest, it’s about making the right decision.” I agree, which is why I draw my moral clarity from the fact the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control — and now the National Education Association — all wholeheartedly endorse a start time no earlier than 8:30. The unanimity between these pediatricians, scientists and professional educators ought to light our way in deciding what “student-centric” and “evidence-based” really means.

“Ok, but it will cost money and there are other things we want to do.” Yes, everything costs money, we have a limited amount of it, and change is hard and rarely free. All I would ask is that any school budget item be subjected to the same logical analysis — “does it give a higher return on investment — helping more kids for fewer dollars — than SST?” SST was on the school’s budget last year, but then cut at the end — it is logical to make anything cut out of last year’s budget the start point for discussion this year.

“Ok, but why not delay it until later in the school’s next strategic plan?” We already delayed for 5 years, then voted to do it — but delayed again for another, then again for another — I don’t trust any further delay or see a magically easier moment in the next 5-year plan. If you can find a lower cost and higher impact initiative to supplant SST next year, then let’s all discuss. Otherwise, patience and prudence are becoming procrastination... and with the mountain of science behind it now, negligence.

It’s time for the district and school committee to lead, and time for us all to work together to finish the change.  Here’s hoping for change and calm logic in the New Year!

Until that happens, May the Force Be With You.

Scott Douglas 


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