Citizens Speak in Favor of Later School Start Times; YCSD Board Unsure

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YCSD_SealParents and one pediatrician spoke Monday in favor of surveying members of the York County School District community about later school day start times, but the council is still divided on the issue.

The school board is considering whether to survey parents on starting school later each day in the school division. Cindy Kirschke, a board member, brought the idea before the board in February, citing research that showed it would improve student health and performance.

Since that time, board members heard a proposal to survey parents on the topic and, at their Sept. 16 meeting, they decided to table the conversation until October. The board met Monday without the topic on the agenda, but citizens took to the stand to speak in favor of the survey.

The board heard from Ester Goldblatt, a Yorktown mom of a York County student, who was “100 percent in favor” of later start times and “shocked and disappointed” that parents had not yet been surveyed.

Board members also heard from Tony Brush, a father who said he was sick of watching his daughter do homework until 11 p.m. and “get up at the crack of dawn” — and that deciding anything without doing a survey would frankly be a wrong move.

“I think making a decision in a vacuum without knowing what the community would like would be a great disservice to us all,” Brush said.

While Chairwoman Barbara Haywood said she did not disagree the change would be a good thing, she added she was concerned about the “consequences of the change” that warrant careful inspection. Haywood added that even if the survey reflected popular support from parents, it would not mean the school district would pursue it.

“I’m certain most parents would say, ‘Yes, change the start times.’ But I want to have an idea of the financial impact,” Haywood said.

David Holzsager, a pediatrician from Hampton Roads-based Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters, said at Monday’s meeting he’s been reading about later school day start times for about two decades, and he was in favor of the change.

“I’ve listened to a lot of teenagers who come in my office and they complain about fatigue,” Holzsager said. “I know that a lot of their problem is because they’re having to get up very early in the morning.”

Board Member Robert George pointed out most of the feedback the board received was from the Grafton area and he hoped to get a fuller picture from all districts in the future. Kirschke, who first proposed the idea of later school start times, said George’s point made a case to survey the school division.

“The best way to get a sample from all high schools, middle schools and elementary schools is if we do a survey,” she said. “And then we will have an accurate sampling of everyone, not just Grafton.”

Throughout the conversations surrounding the matter, the board has focused on the problem the new school schedule would cause for bus routes. Because high school, middle school and elementary students are picked up at different times of the day, the board said it would need to switch around bus schedules and proposed six different options:

  • Having middle school and high school start at the same time – putting both on the bus together each day
  • Delaying school start times of high school, middle school and elementary school students by 25 minutes
  • Changing the school day start times sequence to: middle, high and then elementary school
  • Changing the school day start times sequence to: middle, elementary and then high school
  • Changing the school day start times sequence to: elementary, high and then middle school
  • Changing the sequence to: elementary, middle and then high school

That part of the conversation has been dicey, at best, for some school board members, like Mark Medford who said he felt uncomfortable with any scenario that put elementary school students at the bus stop in the dark – a possibility if they were the first to the stop in the morning.

But one parent, Chuck Cooper, said the whole thing is a false dilemma: The board should have consulted district parents, teachers and students before it came up with the six scenarios he says operate under “invalid assumptions.”

“These multiple scenarios only skew your survey results to a point where it will be difficult for you to understand the desire that we feel is in the best interest of the health and education of our children,” he said.

The board will revisit the issue at its Oct. 14 meeting.