The Charlottesville School Board wants more options.
At a Monday Town Hall focused largely on adjusting school start times, the Board rejected two proposals—both of which came with $1.6 million price tags for additional buses and drivers—and asked staff to return with another set of plans that could see the school day beginning as late as 8:15 a.m.
Currently, Walker Upper Elementary School and Buford Middle School start at 7:40 a.m., and the elementary schools begin at 8:30 a.m. Based on research stating that adolescents benefit from more sleep both developmentally and academically, the Board is considering numerous options, from starting elementary students earlier than their middle school counterparts, to moving all start times later in the morning.
“This is truly one decision that will impact everyone who has a student in the Charlottesville City school system,” School Board Chair Juandiego Wade said. “We know we’re not going to make everyone happy with what we ultimately decide, but we want to do our due diligence and get as much info as possible.”
Despite the information the Board is collecting, parents are split.
“I think a high schooler and a middle schooler can always go to bed a little earlier,” said Greenbrier Elementary parent Val Thomson. “I can’t get my daughter to go to bed at 5:30 p.m.”
“Originally [my son] had to start school at 8:30 in the morning,” said Joan, a Buford Middle School parent, who was one of 16 people who asked a question to the Board via telephone. “Then in the fifth grade school starts at 7:40 a.m., which is rather early for us, so I’m in favor of having it changed.”
The 16 phone-ins were among the over 1,600 who listened to the meeting and took a survey via telephone.
“Why can’t we just keep the times we have now and stay later in the day?” asked caller Melissa.
Wade said staying later in the day could impact afterschool activities if Charlottesville High School were to end later than 4:00 p.m.
“That’s not the sole reason we’ll base our decision on, but it will factor in,” Wade said.
Because the division’s buses serve elementary, middle, and high school students, altering the primary grades’ schedules will impact secondary’s schedule.
Among those activities, Assistant Superintendent Jim Henderson said, are high school athletics.
“They would say the earlier the better because they have practices they have to get underway, they have travel time, particularly in the spring sports,” Henderson said.
Board member Colette Blount said the focus should be on academics.
“It’s a very interesting process…as far as what is more valued or what is more important,” Blount said. “We’re talking about children in their developmental stages.”
“Sports are an option,” Blount added. “I think sports will adapt. They are also student athletes, and they will learn to juggle the demands that sports and academics require of them.”
At the Board’s request from its March 6 meeting, schools staff presented four possible busing scenarios Monday.
Scenario one calls for no changes to start times or the transportation schedules.
Scenario two would push grades pre-k through four up 30 minutes, from 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m., and would move grades five through eight back 50 minutes, from 7:40 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.
This plan would also move the high school start time back five minutes, and transportation would continue to run three separate pick-ups under the plan: preschool-4; 5-8; 9-12, with morning pick-ups beginning at 7:25, 7:50, and 8:25 a.m., respectively.
The Board rejected scenarios three and four, each of which would cost upward of $1.6 million to implement.
Most board members said they would like to see a shift to have pre-k through fourth grade go first in the school day, as recommended in scenario two, however, they asked for more information on how an 8:15 a.m. start time would impact the division’s schedule.
“There’s not but so many different ways we can look at this, so we’re just going to have to make a tough decision, and leave it like it is or go with the proposal,” Wade said.
The Board could vote as early as April 10, but they plan to have the issue finalized by May.