he Park Hill Board of Education is set to vote Thursday night on a recommended plan that has middle schools starting before high schools next year.
The move, recommended last week by the School Start Time Advisory Committee, is a possible solution to the bus driver shortage and escalating costs associated with transporting 11,674 students to school and home.
The committee considered 32 start time options and presented its top three scenarios to the public earlier this month. Following a public hearing, the committee gave its full support to a scenario that has most middle schools starting before high schools.
Shifting the start times will bring Park Hill more in line with the Liberty and North Kansas City school districts, which both have school days starting later for high school students than for middle school students.
Under the proposed plan, Congress, Lakeview and Plaza middle schools will operate from 7:15 a.m. to 2:10 p.m.
In the proposed plan, Park Hill High School and Park Hill South High School will run from 7:50 a.m. to 2:58 p.m. That would be a change from the current 7:30 a.m. to 2:38 p.m. schedule for the high schools.
The new Walden Middle School will start at 8:10 a.m.
Line Creek, Prairie Point and Renner elementary schools would begin at 8:15 a.m., while Union Chapel, Tiffany Ridge, Southeast, Graden and Hopewell elementary schools will attend school from 9:10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Chinn, English Landing and Hawthorne elementary schools would start school at 9:03 a.m.
School board members say changing the start times will allow the busing system a wider timespan for pick-ups and drop-offs, requiring 20 fewer drivers and saving the district $851,540 annually.
The transportation budget this year is $5,491,089.
This year, First Student, the district’s transportation provider, runs two routes each morning and afternoon. High school and middle school students are picked up and delivered to school during the first load, then the bus picks up a second load of elementary students and delivers them to school. This two-load system is repeated in the afternoon.
If the proposed plan is implemented, the bus will pick up most middle school students on the first load, pick up high school students and remaining middle school students on the second load, and then pick up a third load of elementary school students.
GUIDED BY RESEARCH
The Start Times Advisory Committee’s recommendation was guided by health and cognitive research that shows teenagers benefit from more sleep.
Yet, some critics argue that all students are healthier and perform better in school if they have later start times and get more sleep. Several parents claim the move is guided by cost rather than children’s overall health and welfare.
“This is heavily geared towards a budget-first scenario that’s primarily focused on cost,” said Troy Peterson of Parkville.
Peterson said he is worried the shift in start times could present “peril” to the students.
“It makes kids lose sleep, because they have to wake up earlier,” said Peterson. “When parents with children spanned across different age groups, wake the middle schooler perhaps they inadvertently wake up elementary schoolers and high schoolers, said Peterson.
“Maybe they sleep through it, maybe they don’t,” he said. “Generally, kids’ sleep cycles tend to gravitate towards one another if you’re in the same household.”
Pointing out the two-hour gap between elementary schools and middle schools, Peterson contends the proposed start times does not align with findings on student health.
“I have a fifth grader going into sixth grade next year, said Peterson. “The two-hour differential” between the 9:10 a.m. elementary school start time and the 7:15 a.m. middle school start time will “create chaos,” he said.
Crystal Hughbanks of Kansas City told the school board she has a child in elementary, middle school and high school who will be affected by the change in start times. This year, her high school aged daughter was diagnosed with exhaustion. With middle schools shifting to an earlier start time, Hughbanks is concerned about the physiological impact this change will have on her tween.
“My biggest problem is with the middle school start times,” said Hughbanks. “7:15 a.m. is just extremely early. Currently, my middle schooler gets on the bus at 6:30 a.m., so I am worried about her being out in the elements and alone in the dark during the winter months at the bus stop.”
Hughbanks also pointed out research from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that pre-adolescent children ages 10 to 13 have difficulty falling asleep before 11 p.m.
“They are best suited to wake up at 8 a.m. or later,” said Hughbanks.
David Darr of Riverside recognized that the proposed plan significantly reduces costs and requires 20 fewer bus drivers.
“What would be frustrating is if we go through all the adjustments of moving start times only to reduce the number of bus drivers by 12 instead of 20, and the cost by $400,000 instead of $850,000, and still have constraints and issues, even though we went through the process of change,” Darr said.
During the special school board meeting, Justin Barton of Kansas City criticized the decision-making process, claiming the committee didn’t sufficiently address the idea of having elementary schools start first.
“I think that some of the criteria that were set–in terms of minimizing change and disruption and consistency with benchmark schools–led to elementary schools starting later and middle schools starting earlier to keep the status quo,” said Barton. During this process, Superintendent Dr. Jeanette Cowherd said, parents voiced their concern for elementary school students waiting at the bus stop in complete darkness, especially in inclement weather.
“That was part of the conundrum this committee was working with, too,” said Cowherd. “The challenge was how do you balance the desires of the community with the desires of the district to reduce the number of drivers needed, but also to be respectful and listen.”
Another topic of discussion at the meeting involved California’s recent decision to prohibit high schools from starting before 8:30 a.m.
According to a press release, the move is based on “three decades worth of research on teen health, sleep patterns and brain chemistry that occurs when school start times are aligned with the biology of teens. When the school day starts later, our children are healthier and perform better in school.”
School board member Janice Bolin spoke to the challenges associated with shifting high school to a later start time in the Northland.
“If you push back our high school start time you are having so many kids miss class to be in extracurricular activities, which studies have also shown improve academic performance,” said Bolin. “It is such a balance.”
The school board will have a chance to vote on the new busing model at an upcoming school board meeting, but it would not go into effect until the start of the next school year.
QUICK GLANCE AT CLASS TIMES FOR EACH SCHOOL
If the proposal is passed, here will be the class times for each school in the Park Hill district:
HIGH SCHOOLS Park Hill High School: 7:50 a.m.-2:58 p.m. Park Hill South High School: 7:50 a.m.-2:58 p.m.
MIDDLE SCHOOLS Congress Middle School: 7:15 a.m. to 2:10 p.m. Lakeview Middle School: 7:15 a.m.-2:10 p.m. Plaza Middle School: 7:15 a.m.-2:10 p.m. Walden Middle School: 8:10 a.m.-3:05 p.m.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS Chinn Elementary: 9:03 a.m.-3:53 p.m. English Landing Elementary: 9:03 a.m.-3:53 p.m. Graden Elementary: 9:10 a.m.-4 p.m. Hawthorn Elementary: 9:03 a.m.-3:53. Hopewell Elementary: 9:10 a.m.-4 p.m. Line Creek Elementary: 8:15 a.m.-3:05 p.m. Prairie Point Elementary: 8:15 a.m.-3:05 p.m. Renner Elementary: 8:15 a.m.-3:05 p.m. Southeast Elementary: 9:10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tiffany Ridge Elementary: 9:10 a.m.-4 p.m. Union Chapel Elementary: 9:10 a.m.-4 p.m.