The Onteora School Board scrapped current plans for later start times at the middle and high school, deciding that now is just not the time. Dropping the plan came after hearing from elementary school parents who would have to shift their schedules to accommodate the shift.
Board of Education President Kevin Salem moved to rescind a resolution that would have committed the board to engagement throughout the school year with all community stakeholders and to making the change in the 2022-23 school year. The motion to rescind passed unanimously.
Planning for later start times began in 2014 and following extensive research. The first commitment resolution was passed in 2019.
“I believe that the proper thing to do is to rescind this resolution and come back at it with a plan that involves communication,” Salem said at the April 5 board meeting. “When we re-address this, instead of just being for or against, let’s figure out how to actually do it. If you had 15 months to prepare for it, how would you prepare?” Salem said what he would do is convene an ad hoc committee that meets monthly throughout the school year and includes parents, students, teachers and administrators.
“I appreciate the rescinding of the resolution. I don’t feel that, at this time, it’s an appropriate action for elementary families,” said Trustee Dafne DeJesus. “Being the mother of an elementary student, I completely understand why this just cannot go right now.”
Board Vice President Emily Sherry thanked parents and the community for being vocal. “I love to see the community getting involved, whether it is in support of something that we’re doing or to make your voices heard,” Sherry said. “If you don’t like what’s happening, at the end of the day, there is nothing more important than the entire community being involved in the decisions that are being made for our children.”
Sherry said there may have been some misinformation that impacted the way people approached the issue. “I would just encourage everybody to continue to ask us questions, especially if you have questions about process.”
Salem suggested waiting for a new superintendent to be seated. And he appeared ready to embark on another effort. “Don’t celebrate too hard, because I’m specifically asking that you get ready to dig in on this issue,” Salem said.
Citing studies that show adolescents perform better in school when they get more sleep, the district initially aimed for a target start time of 8:45-9 a.m. Because the middle and high school share the bus system with the elementary schools, that plan would result in later times across all schools. So the board revised the planned start time to 8 a.m., 20 minutes later than the current start time.
But elementary school parents and staff expressed concern that they weren’t involved in the planning, since even a 20-minute shift at the secondary school level affects the elementary schools.
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools and forced the board to put the plan on hold.
The board revived the resolution in March 2021 and again this year with a goal of implementing the later times in the 2022-23 school year.
Recently, parents said the proposed 9 a.m. elementary start time would require shifting their work schedules or incurring the expense of day care to fill the gap between when they leave for work and when the bus picks them up for school.