ANDOVER — While Andover won't be changing school start times in the upcoming year, officials say they're still moving forward with the idea.
“I am disappointed, but I thinks it's realistic. The budgetary resources are just not there to make the change next school year,” said School Committee Chair Joel Blumstein. “It doesn't protect all children the way we would like to. For me, it is an unfortunate reality that we cannot do this next year.”
Superintendent Sheldon Berman and Blumstein announced the delay in an email sent to the Andover Public School community Feb. 11, citing budgetary reasons.
The School Committee is considering changing the times because some experts say that biologically high school students need more sleep than they usually get. Students of that age generally have trouble getting to sleep at night, and therefore have difficulty waking up in the morning, some experts say.
One area mother who has two elementary-aged children says the schools have been moving too quickly with implementing the changes, which – she says – are not necessarily advantageous for elementary students.
“We want a change that is fair to all children and to not rush at this decision, because there is still a lot of information that needs to be looked at in order to make an educated decision,” said Sarah Sundman-Farese, who is involved with A:PAC (Andover: Protect All Children), a Facebook group of elementary school parents opposed to changing start times.
“There is no evidence-based research regarding early start times for elementary school kids," she added. "Could our money be better spent on other academic problems, like adding teachers, taking a look at special ed or getting rid of these double runs?”
Sundman-Farese is opposed to one of the options the School Committee has proposed that would make elementary school students start their days later in order to start middle and high schools at a later time. She says that not only will it make the days much longer for elementary-aged kids, but it will prevent certain students, like her son with autism, from being able to get after-school therapy or attend after-school activities.
“My hope is that we could reduce the double runs and push the start time for middle and high school students to 8:05 a.m. and leave the elementary school start time at 8:45 a.m.,” she said. “I believe that would be one of the best solutions we could find because not only would it give the middle and high school students an extra 20 minutes, but eliminating one of the bus runs would allow for later bus pickups and in turn give the middle and high school students the extra time in the morning they need.”
Double runs are when buses take two sets of students to school by picking up one set of students then turning around and picking up another set later.
Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Sandra Trach, who heads up the School Start Times Working Group, addressed this concern saying, “the School Committee has expressed interest in studying what it would take to partially or fully eliminate the b-runs in order to help transport the students more efficiently – this is just for public school runs.”
During the Feb. 6 School Committee meeting, Trach, who leads the School Start Times Working Group, said members have been meeting with the Parent Group to explore possible scenarios and that there has been “a great deal of interest about exploring the possibility of decoupling public and private school transportation” as a potential way to change school start times.
Trach said, “We are transporting 128 private school students currently and I recommended to the committee that they may want to have the Working Group consider ways to transport them more efficiently.”
School officials say there's a state law that requires every town to transport private school students if the private school they attend is in the same town.
“I think that the School Committee is seeking options that are in the well being of all students and as part of the Working Group's study we are well aware of the research for elementary and secondary students,” said Trach.