The Onteora school district’s plans for later start times at the high school is causing friction again with elementary parents who say the School Board hasn’t accounted for child care costs and hasn’t been transparent.
At the March 22 board of education meeting, studies were cited that show adolescents benefit from more sleep. The district had proposed to start the Middle and High School day 20 minutes laterbeginning with the 2020-21 school year but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed implementation. Per a current resolution, the board has committed to engagement with the community and stakeholders throughout the 2021-22 school year on school start times.
The district was initially criticized for not taking into account the effect on the elementary school schedule since Onteora uses the same buses, both district-owned and contracted, for all schools. Pa
rents have complained the change will mean either shifting work schedules or shouldering the expense of day care to handle the gap it would create between when they leave for work and when their children go to school. The later dismissal times have also been a source of contention. “We were told it wasn’t going to affect us. I come to find out it is affecting the elementary school more than it’s affecting the high school,” parent Lisa Treasure said at the meeting. “The high school is getting out 10 minutes later. The elementary school be getting out 20 minutes later. 20 minutes. The science. You can’t deny science you can’t fight science…Twenty minutes is not what was presented to us. Hours. You’re uprooting a community, families, home lives, sports, anything after school. My kids get home now at 4:10. You’re looking at like five o’clock. They’re seven and eight years old. That’s not okay,” she said. “So before you decide that this is something that the board can do, you need to let the stakeholders of Onteora and parents of elementary students voice their opinion as the forums were being held prior to COVID.”
Frank Nagele, who is the parent of a 2nd-grader and a 6th-grader, expressed frustration that a resolution for the start times was passed and now feedback is wanted after the fact. “As a parent in the community, it almost feels like with these things, I’m kind of wasting my time by coming here and speaking, but you’re going to give me the opportunity. So I’m going to do it, but it kind of feels like your decision is made,” Nagele said. “A huge concern of mine is, besides the sports and after school programs within the community, with the elementary schools, it’s the financial impact to the students and the community, to the families and the community. And we have a huge percentage of our families that are financially struggling…For the elementary school to start 20 minutes later, the parents that have 8-5 or 9-5 jobs and have to travel to Kingston or wherever it affects them getting to work on time. Now they have to hire a sitter for in the morning. “I understand the afternoons. If you have a 9-5 (job), that kid comes home before you get home and you have to have that sitter then. But now we’re adding in another hour in the morning. That’s real money. That’s five days a week. I don’t know, $25 an hour,” he said. “That’s $125 a week, for how many weeks of school years, it’s $4,500 for the school year. That’s the difference between a family getting away for a week on the Jersey Shore, or an extra Christmas present.”
Board of Education Trustee Cindy Bishop suggested reaching out to local daycare providers to find out what they charge for before- and after-school services and factor that into the conversation.
Interim Superintendent Marystephanie Corsones said she has reached out to the Healthy Kids organization, which is licensed to provide services in the district buildings, and is trying to find sources of funding for daycare before the school day starts. An existing before-school program at Woodstock Elementary School is now funded by the local PTA.
Board President Kevin Salem said the point of discussions was to pick up where the board left off in 2019 and begin engaging elementary administrators. “I understand that there’s resistance to it, and I understand that some of the resistance is well-founded,” Salem said.
Trustee Valerie Storey was surprised to find out the plan means a loss of 38 hours of instructional time at the middle and high school over the course of a year. The district plans to advance the start time by 20 minutes while dismissing school only seven minutes later. To achieve that, it must shave two minutes off each of the first six periods. That’s 12 minutes per day, or 38 hours over the school year. “That’s kind of surprising to me, and that’s also scary, too, when we have students that take AP tests, or advanced placement, college classes. All this stuff is instruction,” she said. “So what is that going to do to our students? Are they not going to do as well on the test because they’re getting less instructional time? This is something that hadn’t been brought up before.”
Vice President Emily Sherry said there is a lot of confusion about the later start times and it is fueled by misinformation on social media. “I would love to see us…put out a timeline of how this happened, why it happened, when the resolution was passed, and make sure the resolution is available, easily and readily for the public. And to kind of give a timeline of how this has happened, why it stopped in 2019, where we’re out now, how we’re on the fourth step, what the next steps look like, and being really transparent about this about where we’re at and what it’s looking like because I do hear a lot of confusion,” she said. “I think that we could get in front of this by just clarifying how we got here, why we got here, even posting information about the research and why this came to be in the first place.”