I’ve spent much of the last week visiting with parents, teachers and administrators about the issue of school start times in USD 383. There are certainly valid arguments on all sides. Ideally, it would to be in the best interest of all schools to start around 8 a.m., but since busing complications make this impossible, choices inevitably have to be made. I’d like to argue that the best plan is to continue with the status quo, for three simple reasons:
1) No child deserves to have to get on a bus prior to 7 a.m., especially during the dark winter months. Since eliminating such early pick-up times seems impossible, the preferable option should put the smallest numbers of kids on the streets so early, keeping in mind that a 15-year old will be more tolerant standing outside before dawn in January than a 5-year-old who is scared of the dark.
2) An earlier dismissal time creates opportunities for secondary students to get extracurricular activities completed before dinner. It also gives students more opportunities for after-school jobs, which allow them to create their own income and learn valuable life lessons. Earlier dismissal also provides more time for secondary school students (who have the most homework) to finish their studies. These are all advantages to secondary students.
On the flip side, earlier dismissal for elementary schools would put more kids into after-school programs and create more latchkey kids or increase the length of time latchkey kids are unsupervised. Many parents can manage to flex their schedules for the 3:50 p.m. pick-up time by working through lunch, but a 2:50 p.m. pick-up cuts too much into the workday. With a 2:50 dismissal, some kids would be in after-school programs for 2.5 hours a day! That extra care can add up to several hundred dollars a month — a cost families of secondary students don’t have to bear because their children don’t require this level of supervision.
3) Regardless of what time the kids are dismissed, most parents who work outside the home don’t get home until after 5 p.m., so their nighttime process would be the same as it is now — but young kids would need to be in bed earlier. Families are busy and many parents struggle to squeeze in time to connect with their kids. If school starts an hour earlier, either families would lose important time they currently spend together or our kids would simply get less sleep. Many parents I talked with say their elementary school-age kids are exhausted during the week, so parents often let their kids sleep as late as 7:30. With a new plan, many of those younger children would need to be on the bus by 7 a.m.
I sympathize that many parents have to be at work by 8 a.m. For families that don’t qualify for busing, some don’t have an option other than to drop their kids off at school early, even when the buildings are still locked. Maybe instead of rearranging everyone’s lives, we could explore expanding op-tions for elementary before-school-care for the small percentage of families that need it. We are only talking about 15 to 30 minutes per day. Some organized activities in the gym or on the playground could probably do it — and would get those kids’ bodies moving (and minds’ alert) prior the kids sit at a desks all day.
Please keep an open mind about this and realize the huge impact this decision would have on the home lives of many families. Families are extremely busy. Everyone — parents included — could use more sleep. If younger kids have to get up earlier, they aren’t setting alarm clocks and getting themselves around, something older kids need to learn to do anyway. Instead, younger students’ stressed out, over-extended parents would have to drag their exhausted bodies out of bed earlier, too, to make sure the kids make it to school on time — with their teeth brushed, hair combed, shoes tied, and belongings in order.
Kristin Brighton, 3917 Golden Eagle Drive, has children in the first and third grades at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School.