Boston Public Schools Shelves Plan To Overhaul Start Times Next School Year

Buses idle as drivers wait for students to board outside the Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Buses idle as drivers wait for students to board outside the Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Boston Public Schools on Friday announced it will not implement proposed changes to school start times for next school year.

It's an about-face. Two weeks ago, the Boston School Committee voted unanimously to approve the framework behind a new systemwide schedule.

With its proposal, the district cited research showing that later start times afford a number of educational advantages especially for adolescents, from better health to more prolonged attention and diminished tardiness.

Superintendent Tommy Chang also argued that the changes were more fairly distributed along racial and ethnic lines.

The latest state enrollment data does mostly bear that out. The changes would have given thousands more students — especially high schoolers — starts in the most desirable mid-morning slot. And under the plan, each wave of school starts better reflected the district's overall demographics.

(Max Larkin/WBUR)
(Max Larkin/WBUR)

But the proposed start times for next year arrived suddenly in schools and homes the day after the school committee's vote — and the pushback was immense.

Parents, community groups and city councilors complained that the process hadn't been adequately open and transparent. And using the hashtag #No7to1, some used social media to argue that no students should be asked to start school at 7 a.m., no matter how young they might be.

The district has argued that the logistics of staggered busing, and its oversize transportation budget, effectively require that many schools start that early.

Parents had planned a silent protest for Friday at 1 p.m. on City Hall Plaza, to be followed with further action at Mayor Marty Walsh's inauguration on New Years' Day.

Then came a note to parents from Superintendent Chang, just an hour before that silent protest was to begin.

"Over the past few weeks, we have heard from families, staff, and stakeholders that there are concerns with the implementation of the new start and end times policy," Chang wrote.

"After reflecting on this feedback, we understand that while the new schedule would achieve our goal of supporting academic success for all ages, the shifts to many school start times caused a more significant disruption to family schedules than we intended," he added.

Any changes will be put on hold for a year and the existing schedule will remain in place. Under that schedule, around 20,000 Boston Public Schools students presently start school between 7 and 7:30 a.m. More than half of them are high schoolers — the students for whom the original changes were made.

In a statement, Walsh said the district's reversal is "the right decision." He added: "It’s clear that there are outstanding issues that need to be resolved before new start times are put in place."

Chang said the school department will now focus on "developing a new schedule of start and end times for future school years that is grounded in equity and better meets the needs of our students and families."

Parents who participated in the protest are celebrating.

Susan Lombardi-Verticelli vocally opposed the changes at the last school committee meeting. "I feel relieved, I feel elated, I feel proud for the Boston community who came out strong," Lombardi-Verticelli says.

She has a young daughter at the Hernandez K-8 School in Boston, and acknowledges this means students will still face a 7:15 start next year.

She says she would never have spoken up without a feeling of consensus behind her: "It was clear to me that this time change, with such short notice and such a huge financial burden [on families paying for after-school care], didn't work for the majority of Boston Public Schools parents."

Whether and how the district will be able to adjust its "bell times" later, without awakening an angry backlash, remains to be seen.

This article was originally published on December 22, 2017.

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Max Larkin Reporter, Education
Max Larkin is an education reporter.



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