By John Lynds
The frustration among East Boston parents at Monday night’s Boston Public School meeting regarding school start-time changes was palpable.
BPS officials planned a series of community meeting after rolling out the changes to school start times in the city two weeks ago. The point of Monday’s meetings was simply to brief BPS parents on the changes, leaving one to wonder if school officials ever considered the upswell of negative feedback from parents all across the city.
Eastie’s meeting was no different than meetings being held in Roslindale or Jamaica Plain where parents voiced outrage at the process and methods used to change school start times across the district.
“There is a lot of frustration with the process,” said one parent Monday at East Boston High School addressing BPS’s Deputy Chair of Operations Dr. Charles Grandson. “We are not widgets. You keep saying you had to look at the system as a whole, and not as small school communities. You say it has to be done know and you know better than us, the parents and families, and that is unacceptable.”
At the meeting, Grandson said two MIT students working on their doctoral thesis won a BPS-sponsored contest on who could come up with the best solutions to fixing the school system’s start and end times and busing routes and schedules. The two researchers used an algorithm tool that allowed the district to maximize a set of goals put forth by BPS. These goals included increasing the number of high school students starting after 8 a.m. while increasing the number of elementary school students dismissing before 4 p.m.
While BPS said they surveyed 10,000 parents and BPS staff and held several community meetings, many in crowd were unaware of either.
With close to 63,000 students, teachers and support staff at BPS and others complained the sample size of those that responded to the survey on school start times was far too small with just over 15 percent responding.
“There are a variety of factors that led us to choose the Otis School in East Boston,” said another parent. “Now you are saying all elementary schools here will be a 7 a.m./7:30 a.m. start time? This is going to force a lot of parents to realign their schedules or move out of schools they are in. There are a lot of tough choices you are asking parents to make and make those choices incredibly quickly. There has to be more back and forth with parents so I say hold off a year.”
Another parent, who is also a BPS educator, said a majority of those in Eastie surveyed did not want a disruption to the school start times, and many parents chose schools based on start times, due to work and other commitments.
“Eastie is now facing very early start times that may not work for parents and their children,” she said. “I think BPS has to revaluate the entire process and perhaps a smaller implementation to start.”
A Bradley Elementary School parent said he cherished the time in the morning with his child and feels an earlier start will destroy the bond his family has formed in the morning during their busy lives.
“Right now we have a 9:30 start time and that is being switched to 7:15,” he said. “We would have time, maybe two hours in the morning, to be together as a family before school and work. The later start also worked better because our child was home later in the day, and we are working parents. Now with the earlier start, we lose that time in the morning, and we have to make up the time shift in the afternoon with after school programs. So instead of our child having quality time in the morning with her family, she will leave the house at 7 a.m., and we will have to rely on teachers and after-school staff to care for our child for a 10-hour stretch. At least now we have a couple hours in the morning to be a family.”
Other Eastie parents who have children at schools outside the neighborhood, like the Eliot School in the North End, said the shift to later start times was also problematic. One woman pointed to the fact many working parents have to be at work at 9 a.m. or before and a 9:15 a.m. start time was tough.
“It’s very frustrating that an algorithm chose what’s best for students and parents,” said another parent.
City Councilor elect Lydia Edwards, who was at Monday night’s meeting, said the tools and algorithms being applied to make a dramatic shift in the lives of thousands of parents should be approached cautiously.
“This is one of the first times something like this is being done,” said Edwards. “Considering how groundbreaking these new tools and algorithms are, shouldn’t we get a second opinion? And why implement it right away? This process should be a long and hard inclusive pathway.”