Parents and Students Clash over Proposed Mandatory Free Period at Shared Decision Making Committee Meeting

By Andrew Schneider
At the start of the school year, Sophomore Jacob M. made a decision that seems to be commom among students attending South High. He and many others eliminated any free period in their schedules in order to take on an extra class or two. “Lunch wasn’t really necessary for me if my teachers would allow for me to eat in certain classes,” Jacob said.
Jacob’s choice was a “college-oriented decision.” The entire high school experience culminates in going to college, and some students believe that taking additional classes will help them achieve this goal. “I believe that fitting extra classes into my schedule will increase my odds of getting accepted into college,” said Jacob.
However, that doesn’t mean that Jacob and other students like him won’t take classes simply for personal interests. Many students fit in classes because they have certain hobbies that they want to pursue. “If lunch is in the way of me taking those classes, I would be more than okay to take lunch out,” continued Jacob.
Jacob’s decision and the motivation behind it have been a reccurring theme among South students. Many feel that in order to fit electives into their schedules, they must substitute their free period in exchange for taking that extra class.
Shared Decision felt this was a topic that they needed to address. The committee is a group of parents, teachers and students with the goal of “improving the intellectual, social, and emotional experiences of all involved parties throughout the school,” said Junior Cristina Lai, committee speaker on behalf of the student body. One of their main goals for this year is to reduce student stress, and they believed that the issue of no free periods falls under this category.
According to Lai, at the committee’s second meeting the PTA proposed a mandatory free period for all students attending South.
Many of the parents are concerned about students overloading their schedules and agreed with the PTA goal. Mrs. Julie Aronowitz, President of the South High School PTA, felt that “students need a free period to unwind, eat, and interact with their peers.” Mrs. Aronowitz, along with many other parents, also brought up the fact that a free period could allow for students to “meet with teachers and complete extra assignments so that they have less to work on when they get home.”
The student advocates on the Shared Decision Making Committee did not agree. When Lai addressed the committee, she said, “I don’t think that the administration should make lunch/free periods mandatory. I think that if students want to fill their schedule, they should have that opportunity and be able to take as many classes as they want. It should be up to the students and their parents based on their individual goals and preferences.” The other student representatives concurred.
As the meeting progressed, Vice Principal Sharon Applebaum informed the committee about the percentages of students with/without a free period in their schedule. Ninety-five of the student body has a free period, lunch, or study hall/center. Furthermore, 97% of ninth graders, 98% of tenth graders, 91% of eleventh graders, and 94% of twelfth graders meet the same criteria.
In light of these statistics, the Shared Decision Making Committee unanimously decided to remove the issue as one of their goals. They realized that students not taking a free period was no longer a topic that Shared Decision needed to address because so many students have a free period already built into their schedule.