Onteora trustees will likely put off enacting later middle school and high school start times until a thorough review of its effect on elementary school students.
School officials began the groundwork for enacting later start times after studies found adolescents aren’t getting enough sleep and their school day should start no later than 8 a.m. The Board of Education drafted a resolution in 2019 to move the current start time from 7:40 a.m. to 8 a.m. and ending the day seven minutes later at 2:42. It wasn’t enacted in 2020, then Covid-19 happened, further delaying implementation.
Trustees revived the issue of start times at the March 9 meeting as part of planning for possible full reopening of school in the fall.
School Board President Laurie Osmond said she sees later start times as part of the broader discussion.
“I don’t see this as a later start time discussion. I see this as a return-to-school discussion because we’re talking about what are class sizes? What are the building utilizations going to be? What are the protocols for transportation,” she said.
“What kind of social/emotional support are there that fit every type of family and every type of student? There are so many different moving parts to this,” she added.
“It is building the plane while it’s flying. We don’t fully know what the destination is going to look like to sort of mix metaphors.”
The 2019 plan did not include significantly altering the elementary school start or end times because studies have shown the younger children do not benefit from the changes.
Since all schools in the district share a transportation infrastructure, any changes at the middle and high school would necessitate moving the pickup and drop-off times at the elementary schools.
No studies or discussions happened at the elementary level to determine the effects of changing the transportation schedule, something Trustee Bennet Radcliff said was a mistake.
“This is an amazing document,” he said of the middle/high school start times proposal.
“It was put together I believe with the leadership of the middle school and high school bringing forward all sort of stakeholders, bringing transportation in the room, talking to athletics, talking to parents’ groups, administration and building leaders coming together, getting students’ input,” Radcliff added.
“That needs to happen at the elementary level. It didn’t. We made a mistake,” he said.
“It’s okay to admit when you make mistakes. That is one thing we have all learned in the past year.”
Trustee Valerie Storey expressed concern about the later start time cutting into instruction by ten minutes per day at a time when students are falling behind due to the pandemic. She also noted this is the time of year when administrators are beginning to plan for next year.
“Our administrators need to know this sooner than later because they need to make up the schedules,” she said.
“There’s a great level of concern with shortening our instructional day just given what our students have been through for the past year,” Superintendent Victoria McLaren said.
“The transportation guidelines for us are huge. If we can only put one student per seat in a bus, that’s going to greatly impact our ability to change and modify how our runs are created,” she said.
“Certainly we don’t know where we’re going to be with Covid in September and we don’t know what guidelines are going to be in place for social distancing and we don’t know how families are going to feel about it, depending on what the environment is in our greater community, in our state and in our country.”
Board Vice President Robert Kurnit said the issue requires a look at the effects on all students in the district and the board needs to re-engage with the community.
“I do think the simplest thing to do would be to put this back on the agenda so we can make a decision as to whether we want to move at least that start date in order to allow this.”
Trustee Emily Sherry said any changes need to involve the elementary community.
“I don’t think I would be comfortable moving forward with it unless and until the elementary parents were engaged,” Sherry said.
“For me, I’d like to see it pushed back until we have the opportunity to do that in a really meaningful way.”