Should Onteora start classes an hour later?


A letter over there, might be the first one, is from a parent upset that Onteora has seemingly not been very interested in moving the start time for classes for high school students to a later hour, after some discussion last year. Much literature has been disseminated on the circadian rhythms of teens, and how they seem naturally to stay up later at night, and how sleeping later in the morning might improve their school performance. Without going too deeply into the polarizing images of freezing teens with wet hair and thin jackets waiting for the bus at 6:15 a.m. in sub zero temperatures, let’s just say that this paper has editorialized in the past in favor of a later start time for Onteora Middle/High School.

The letter writer pointed out that Rhinebeck Schools had done such a deed. To check it out, I called Rhinebeck Superintendent Joseph Phelan, who told me that Wednesday, September 7, the first day back, the new schedule went into place. Here’s how they did it.

The first period class begins now at 8 a.m., instead of last year’s 7:30 a.m. Dismissal was moved up to 2:35 p.m. from 2:16 p.m.


“We used to have four minutes between classes, but we reduced that to three minutes, and picked up minutes that way,” he said. “One of the reasons we decided to try to trim some of the time back, so dismissal was only 19 minutes later, was so the impact on athletics and after school schedule was not a problem. We don’t think 19 minutes will be a big deal. We still get to where we need to get for away game. That’s why 2:35 p.m. [dismissal] is better than 3 p.m. We took great pains to set up the schedule to not compromise any of our activities.”

And how is it going?

“So far so good,” said Phelan. “It seems to be working well. But it’s too short a time for proper assessment. That’s one of our projects for this year, to assess how it’s working. This year it’s a pilot process. The board will revisit it in the spring and determine how its going. They need some time to make an informed decision. We’ll know in a few months.  We’re cautiously optimistic…”

Onteora trustees should also keep an eye on the process at Rhinebeck.


Planning and ZBA appointments

Shandaken town board members seem to be confused as to how planning and zoning board appointments are conducted (see Page 9). A citizen in the audience at a town board meeting wanted the town law to be changed. “Right now they [the town board] can only receive recommendations [from the planning board and zoning board of appeals], but if the town board has more responsibility, more people may come forward.” After an argument between former supervisor, now town board member Peter DiSclafani and supervisor Rob Stanley, no action was taken.

Now it may be customary for the town board to accept the recommendations of the planning and zoning boards for new members, after they have done what’s mandated by the town’s own ordinance or law (but not state law) and conducted interviews, let’s be clear that those recommendations are only that. The town board is solely responsible.

State law, which supersedes a town’s, states in the very first paragraph of Section 271 of NY State Town Law, on planning boards, “The town board of each town is hereby authorized and empowered to appoint a planning board of five members or seven members in the discretion of the board, and shall have the authority to remove any member of such planning board for cause and after a public hearing.”

Basically the same goes for the ZBA.

Try as they might, it is a thorny road to try to avoid political influence in these appointments. It’s right there, and something even Howard Harris knows, the town board appoints who it wants. That’s what they are elected to do.

There is one comment

  1. Athan Yanos

    Interestingly enough, although I am not a student at either Rhinebeck or Onteora, I have heard that schools at Onteora start at 7:40 and end at 2:35, not including the time for sports, while the Rhinebeck school starts at 8 and ends at 2:35. Now, the question of the better system seems to me to be a no brainer: Rhinebeck has only 3 minutes in between classes, as opposed to Onteora, which has 5 minutes between classes. This means that students at Rhinebeck have a higher risk of being late to their classes. When students are late, this makes class time less efficient and creates a more stressful situation for the students. Stress has been proven to affect students’ ability to think clearly and use logic. This can lead to lower individual test scores as well as overall school scores – all because of an attempt to make the Rhinebeck school only end 19 minutes later. At the same time, a two minute difference in time between classes does not add up to a total of 19 minutes, so that further derails the credibility of this argument.
    In addition, a 20 minute difference in the supposed amount of sleep will not be a great enough to have a positive effects on the brain, as sleep cycles are in periods of an hour and thirty minutes. And, even if the difference in sleep time was great enough to have an effect on the brain, studies have shown that “shifted sleep,” has a greater health risk for humans. Shifted sleep, to clarify, means sleeping during the day rather than at night so, if anything, any delayed sleep time would effect the health of the students. Lastly, in accordance to the remark about waiting for the bus in the freezing cold, might I suggest an app that tracks the school bus’s location, in order to minimize the waiting time for the bus. This would allow for students to time their arrival to the bus stop better but mainly eliminate elongated waiting time if the bus was late.

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