By Beth Treffeisen
After widespread opposition from parents and a number of Boston City Councilors, the Boston School System has decided to desert their plans to change the opening and closing school times across the city next fall, according to an announcement from city officials last Friday, Dec. 22.
Superintendent of Boston Public Schools, Tommy Chang, in a letter sent out on the first day of the holiday break announced that the Boston School Committee will not be implementing the new start and end times that they have proposed for the 2018-2019 school year.
“Over the past few weeks, we have heard from families, staff, and stakeholders that there are concerns with the implementation of the new start and end times policy,” wrote Chang.
He continued, “After reflecting on this feedback, we understand that while the new schedule would achieve our goal of supporting academic success for all ages, the shifts to many school start times caused more significant disruption to family schedules than we intended.”
For over a year, the Boston School Committee has been working on changing the BPS school start times with a goal to have later start times for high school students to allow them more sleep, while having earlier end times for elementary school children to get them home before sun down, and where possible assign schools with higher concentrations of medically fragile students to bell times reflective of the needs of their student body.
Across the district, the policy would have dramatically increased the percent of secondary school students starting after 8 a.m. from 27 percent to over 94 percent of students. The policy would have also reduced the number of elementary students dismissing after 4p.m. from 33 percent to 15 percent.
BPS referred to research that shows this will improve academic outcomes, reduce tardiness, improve student physical and mental health, and improve the quality of athletics.
But the extreme shift of the schedule left many parents, teachers, and after school providers unhappy. At a community meeting held on December 20 at the Blackstone Community Center in the South End, many people voiced their concerns over the abrupt changes.
“There are too many unintended consequences here,” said Maria Dominguez a mother of two children at the Hurley K-8 school. “The goal was to have everyone as equal but when we changed the old version everyone went down so now we’re all equal but these are the worst times possible.”
For some elementary students school was scheduled to start as early as 7 a.m. with a release time as early as 1p.m. causing many parents to become upset, not knowing if they could afford the extra childcare costs for the entire afternoon.
Also, the shift to later school start times for some parents had them worried that they couldn’t afford before school childcare for those who needed to get to work.
Many parents also worried how their children who gain extra help after school will be able to get it with the later let out time.
“My son is seven-years-old and in the second grade and didn’t speak English well,” said Ms. Acorn through a translator. “I attribute his good English now to his after-school program but if the school finished at 4 p.m. how is he going to get support?”
Ms. Acorn said she is representing not only herself, but also other Latino parents who attend the Blackstone School and can’t make the meeting.
“I’m confident that something good is going to happen,” said Ms. Acorn.
Dominguez said that there are around 300 after-school programs that will have to change their times to accommodate the let out times.
Other representatives from after school programs including Castle Square Tenant Organization, Boys & Girls Club, St. Stephen’s Youth Program, and Asian CDC said they would be issues because they employ many high school students who no longer will be able to help because elementary school students will be let out hours before them.
Teachers, who many are parents themselves of students in BPS system, shared their concerns over having to shift schools to accommodate the new start and end times of their children.
In addition, many parents said that they applauded the later school start times for high school students but disliked how it came at a cost for younger kids who will now have to wake up earlier, stating there is no evidence that less sleep for younger kids can be any better.
“We keep referencing the research that later start time for high school BPS students but where is the research for earlier start times for elementary school students?” asked Dominguez. “There is no way a 7:15 a.m. start time makes sense for elementary school children.”
Other parents shared concerns that schools just blocks away had a two-hour difference, one starting at 7:30 a.m. and other starting at 9:30 a.m., making it almost impossible for parents who had kids in both schools to drop them off in the morning without major time gaps and traffic concerns.
Many parents voiced that the times of schools should not be based on how the buses can coordinate bringing the kids from kindergarten to eight grades, plus some high school students to school.
“Why are we allowing buses to be the tail that wags the dog?” asked Beth Rogers a parent of a child at Eliot K-8 School. “The buses have to make several turns and already it is a nightmare and not at all effective.”
City Councilor-elect for District 2 Ed Flynn made an appearance and said that he will make himself available to listen to families in the community. As a parent himself he said he understand the difficulties and will work to make a better way for parents to engage with BPS.
“The feedback I’ve been hearing is how do we get kids to school earlier and also how did we have school times convening at 7:15 in the morning?” said Karla Estrada the Deputy Superintendent of the Office of Academic and Student Support for Equity Team in Boston Public Schools.
She continued, “We do have some schools starting at 7:15 a.m. and they’ve done very well. I think that’s why it remained an option but we understand some prefer other start times and that will be impact of change.”
Going forward, Chang said the Boston School Committee will focus their efforts on continued and improved engagement with all of the families and community members to solve the problems necessary to build a more coherent school system.
This includes developing a new schedule of start and end times for future school years that better meets the needs of students and families.
“We must share a collaborative spirit, and work together to find solutions to repair the institutional inequities that persist,” wrote Chang. “I look forward to gathering a wider circle of voices from across the city.”
In the upcoming months BPS will be building on the current engagement process that will allow BPS to address the start and end times, as well as other strategic priorities that they hope to achieve in the near future.
“There is a deep desire throughout the BPS community to solve problems,” wrote Chang. “We will be asking for your help in building a more effective, equitable, and sustainable school system for our great City of Boston.”