The announcement of new school start times surely had some Boston high schoolers excited about sleeping in, but for many parents of elementary and middle school kids, the news didn’t receive a positive reaction.
“I was very shocked when I heard. I can’t even explain how shocked,” said Jane Miller, a Roslindale mom of three who also works as a teacher outside of the Boston Public School system. Miller’s children are 10, 8 and 5 years old.
BPS spent 18 months considering the start times change, an effort that included a districtwide survey, to which 7,500 families and 2,200 teachers responded, community meetings and website information.
When BPS announced the new start times at the end of last week, Miller found out that her kids’ school schedule changed from a 9:30 start time and 4:10 dismissal time to a 7:15 start and 1:55 dismissal — an option she said was never really part of the community discussions.
When it came to actually figuring out what the new times would be, BPS relied on computers, using an algorithm to shift things around, with a focus on transportation spending (new start times affect bus schedules and thus BPS’ entire transportation system). To Miller, that method didn’t factor in every school’s needs.
“Every school community will need something different. They don’t need to start at the same time, but it should be equitable,” she said. “An algorithm can’t tell you what works for your community.”
If a new bell time doesn’t work for some families, BPS is offering to write letters for parents’ and guardians’ employers, explaining how the new schedules may mean that a parent’s work hours should change.
Still, the only option for some families, BPS noted, may be to change schools. Miller said that isn’t realistic for many people, not only because of where they live and work but because of details like how her children’s school focuses on “social and emotional disabilities.”
“They get kids from all over the city,” Miller said. “[These families] don’t have the option to change schools — this is where those services are provided.”
Plus, with a 1:55 dismissal, many families have said how their child care costs for the after-school hours will skyrocket.
Spurred by her frustrations, Miller started a change.org petition asking the district to delay the changes. The new start times are set to go into effect for the 2018-19 school year, but nine months is not enough time for families to reschedule their lives, she said.
As of Tuesday, more than 6,000 people signed the petition. Miller and other parents also started a Facebook group, Start Smart BPS, and had a meeting Tuesday night that families from 17 schools attended.
“It’s important that all the Boston Public Schools start working together,” Miller said. “The goal is not to take away a preferable start time for one school; the goal is to get equitable start times for each school community.”
The group has also raised their concerns with the Boston City Council, who on Monday ordered a hearing to address the changes, and also plans to organize a presence at the School Committee meeting Wednesday night.
“We all chose our schools based on a number of reasons, and one of those reasons is the start time,” Miller said. “Being a parent with work, kids, extra activities — it’s such a fine balance. … To just have someone else decide what works best for you, it really has an impact on a lot of families.”