Proposed school time change worries some parents

BY CLARK CAHILL | APRIL 15, 2009 7:38 AM

Iowa City School Board members have a lot to think about after hearing numerous concerns about options to change elementary and secondary school schedules Tuesday night.

School District administrators presented the board five options that could save the district anywhere from $275,000 to a little more than $825,000 per year.

The options could potentially have elementary schools starting as early as 7:50 a.m. and ending as late as 3:50 p.m. For secondary schools, the day could start as early as 7:40 a.m. and end as late as 4 p.m. The proposed changes are intended to potentially reduce the number of buses used to transport students in the district. By staggering elementary- and secondary-school times — starting one significantly earlier than the other — each bus could take numerous routes.

Colleen Davis, a City High language-arts teacher and mother of an elementary student, voiced concern about spending less time with her children and the amount of sleep her children would receive if the elementary day were to start earlier.

“I will lose two to three hours a day with my kids,” she said. “I don’t feel that there has been any other research done other than saving money.”

While the district is concerned about finances, an early start for elementary schools could put a financial burden on some families who have to provide their children with after-school childcare.
Beth Fettweis, also a language-arts teacher at City High, did not favor the prospect of starting secondary schools later in the day, stressing concern about early dismissal for high-school students who participate in after-school activities.

“Instead of missing two class periods, they will miss three,” Fettweis said. “I’m also concerned about losing instruction time. There is no substitute for [students] being in the classroom.”

Nancy Jones, the mother of a City High junior, thought starting the secondary day early would have a negative effect on students who need to take early bird physical education in order to fulfill their academic requirements, noting early bird starts at 7:10 a.m. at City High.

“Sleep deprivation is a common problem among high-school students,” Jones said. “Starting the school day any earlier than it already starts would not be a good idea.”

Around 10 to 12 percent of City High students are enrolled in early bird, according to the school.
Curtis Wheeler, general manager of Durham School Services, said a schedule change is not a significant issue for the company; it already has routes established, and the only difference would be starting times for the buses.

“Change is difficult, and when we talk about change at this level, we understand there will be bumps in the road,” he said. “Our main concern is communicating with the community and learning about the changes a soon as possible.”

Superintendent Lane Plugge said he would like the board to vote on one of the options at its next meeting April 28.

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