By John Lynds
In an effort to give high and middle-schoolers a little extra sleep because studies have shown teenagers have better outcomes when their school day begins later in the morning, the Boston Public Schools released new school start times for the 2018-2019 school year.
“School-bell times have tangible impacts on the lives of families, ranging from jobs to a student’s academic performance,” said BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang. “As a district, we must make sure that our students and families are set up for success, and they deserve nothing less. I am confident that next year’s school bell schedule will be an improvement for the majority of families, and is reflective of the feedback we have received from thousands of students, parents, and staff.”
Chang said decision to change the school start times next year was the result of ‘nationally-leading optimization work conducted with the MIT Operations Research Center, 18 months of community feedback from 10,000 students, family members and staff, and input from the Boston School Committee”.
Last Wednesday the School Committee voted unanimously in favor of changing the school start times.
Seven out of eleven schools in Eastie are being shifted by an hour or more in either direction. This means around 75 percent of Eastie BPS students and families will face disruption in their current daily schedules starting next year. The Mario Umana Academy for example, currently at a 7:20 a.m. start time, will now have a start time of 8:30 a.m. next year while the current Eastie schools with an 8:15/8:30 a.m. start time are being pushed back to an earlier 7:15/7:30 a.m. start time.
Some in Eastie are already complaining that the process to change the school start times did not take into account the important fact that many families chose a school based on a particular school’s start time. A family who wanted an early school would have chosen an early start time and vice versa due to work schedules and other factors.
“To swap school times without consulting families first is like ordering pasta at a restaurant and being served salad instead and being told, “I know you ordered pasta but I’m serving you salad. Believe me, it’s better for you.” complained one parent that wanted to remain anonymous. “That doesn’t work. I know at least one family who, after attending the Umana for a year, transferred to a late-start school because the early time did not work for them. Now that school they are at in Eastie is going to be switched to 7:15. How is that fair?”
Others have complained that BPS’s promise that families can transfer to a different school if they can’t work with the new start times is ‘ludicrous’ ,and in no way builds a strong school community. It also disrupts some families and students who are happy at their current school but now may be forced to abandon the school due to the change in start times.
Maria Gaurino said the change to start times may not be a good thing for working parents who have based their school choice on the best possible start times that works.
“Employers don’t care about employees having to come in late or leave early because their kids have different school hours and have to commute,” she said. “People barely make enough money for their bills as it is–now let’s add having to possibly pay for childcare/babysitters in the morning or afternoons.”
Some parents are vowing to protest the new start times and have begun circulating an online petition. They are also calling for a City Council hearing on the matter
However, not everyone is down on the new plan.
“I got a notice from my kids schools and I’m pleased with the change,” said Alison Kristine. “I had two kids out of school at 2 p.m. and two out at 4 p.m.. Next year the four of them will be coming home all around 4 p.m. It makes it easier on me. Currently I have to make sure my two boys that get out at 2 p.m. have a sitter or have a program to go to. With four kids in three different schools I’m actually happy with BPS’s decision.”
Elizabeth St. Andre said she work nights from 4:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. and welcomes the change.
“By the time I get home it’s almost 1:30 a.m.,” she said. “My kids go to the Umana and they have me up at 6 a.m. every morning, and I struggle every day so I wouldn’t mind the time change from 7:20 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. I do understand parents that work in the morning have concerns, but what about the parents that work at night? I kind of like that they changed the start time.”
Dr. Judith Owens, the director of sleep medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, applauded BPS for establishing start times that facilitate better sleep patterns for secondary school students.
“In moving middle- and high-school start times later, Boston Public Schools is taking a critical step to ensuring an academic environment that promotes health, safety, well-being and learning in adolescents,” said Owens. “The BPS community and leadership are to be commended for recognizing the substantial body of scientific evidence that demonstrates the importance of sleep patterns that are in sync with teenagers’ biological needs. Later school start times promote healthy sleep, which not only helps students perform better academically, but decreases the risk of car crashes, depression, and alcohol and substance abuse. We all win.”
To review your school’s new start times you can visit https://www.bostonpublicschools.org/Page/7017.