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Jefferson Co. Board of Education approves new school start times for next year

JCPS marquee has the address of the VanHoose Education Center in white, blue and green graphics.
Liz Schlemmer
The Jefferson Co. Board of Education voted to change start times for the 2023-2024 school year at its Tuesday night meeting.

For 50 years, JCPS had essentially two start times, an early one for middle and high schools, and a later one for elementary schools. Next year will be totally different.

For 50 years, JCPS has had essentially two start times, an early one for middle and high schools, and a later one for elementary schools. Next year will be totally different.

Most Jefferson County Public Schools students will have a new school schedule next year, after the Jefferson County Board of Education approved an overhaul of school start times in a 6-1 vote Tuesday evening.

District leaders say that longstanding schedule – with most middle and high schools starting at 7:40 a.m. and most elementary schools starting at 9:05 a.m. – has become unsustainable as the district grapples with a bus driver shortage.

“I believe as the superintendent representing these folks out here, it is my ethical and moral responsibility to bring you a solution to this problem,” JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio told the board Tuesday. “We cannot go another year with kids missing instruction.”

In 2015, JCPS had more than 1,000 bus drivers. This academic year JCPS is getting by with just 660 drivers to transport roughly 65,000 students on about 700 routes. To manage, drivers are running double and triple runs. But with fewer bus drivers than routes, an average of 30 buses are late to school each day, according to JCPS.

Speaking in support of the changes, Newburg Middle School principal Shamika Johnson said one of her school’s buses doesn’t arrive until after third period.

“We’ve started lunch, and our students have already missed half of the day,” she said.

"This is an equity issue that I never imagined facing," JCPS Assistant Superintendent of High Schools Joseph Ellison told the board. "But we are here."

Ellison said most high schools have a handful of buses that are consistently late, sometimes by two hours every day.

The shortage also means many students are late getting home as drivers circle to and from the school, taking children home in batches. That’s hard on students and their families, but also the drivers, who work long shifts. School-based staff are working longer hours as well because they have to supervise students while they wait for their rides.

Under the plan approved by the seven-member board Tuesday, JCPS will start the fall of 2023 with nine staggered start times. Officials say this will allow buses to get students to and from school on time with a limited number of drivers.

A color-coded table shows the updated start times for elementary, middle and high schools in Jefferson County Public Schools.
via JCPS
The changes in bell times go into effect for the 2023-2024 school year.

The plan also partially accomplishes a longtime aspiration of JCPS superintendent Marty Pollio — it moves most middle and high schools to a later 8:40 a.m. start time, with the aim of giving adolescents more sleep.

Research shows later start times are better aligned with adolescents’ sleep cycles, and studies have shown positive impacts on health, education and public safety where districts have shifted older students to a later school day.

Pollio said the district could not accommodate shifting all middle and high schools to a later time, so they prioritized non-magnet schools, or “resides schools” — schools students are assigned to based on their home address.

Those are also the schools where students struggle the most with chronic absenteeism. According to the district, last year half of students who attended their resides middle school or high school were chronically absent. That means they missed 10% or more of the school year.

So far this year, 45% of resides middle and high school students were chronically absent.

Magnet middle and high schools, which students have to apply to get into, will keep their early 7:40 a.m. bell time.

The change means that many elementary schools will shift to an earlier start time. Twenty elementary schools will see their arrivals move up to 7:40 a.m, nearly 90 minutes earlier from their current 9:05 a.m. arrival. Those schools will dismiss at 2:20 p.m.

That early start time for some elementary schools was why District 5 board member Linda Duncan cast the sole ‘no’ vote against the plan.

Duncan said she had concerns about younger students walking to the bus stop in the dark, and arriving home before their older siblings, who may have been providing child care.

“They're going to be the ones making longer trips in the dark to bus stops, and they're going to be the ones coming home on buses without older siblings there to be able to meet them,” she said.

Far more many elementary schools see their days shift later to a 9:40 a.m. arrival, and a 4:20 p.m. dismissal.

Early childhood programs will have the latest start time, beginning at 10:40 a.m., and ending at 5:20 p.m. Currently early childhood programs run from 9:45 a.m. to 4:25 p.m.

Though District 3 board member James Craig voted in favor of the plan, he said he had heard “vociferously” from parents in his district opposed to the changes, and he urged Pollio to work with community partners to expand child care options before and after school.

In explaining her support for the plan, District 7 board member Sarah Cole McIntosh said she had sympathy for parents who reached out to her saying they would have to rearrange their schedules.

“But we can’t make a systemwide decision to accommodate individual needs,” she said. “So many students are missing class.”

District leaders say families and staff can transfer schools if they cannot adjust their schedules to align with the new school day. The transfer period opens May 1, 2023 and closes March 22, 2024.

In addition to the time changes, the new schedule will mean students will have to walk farther to their bus stops. Currently, the average distance from students’ homes to their bus stop is a tenth of a mile. Next year students will walk an average of a little more than a quarter mile to reach their stop.

However, on average, students will spend slightly less time on the bus. The average ride time will decrease from 29 minutes to 27 minutes.

Buses will also be less crowded, officials say. Currently many buses are running with three students per seat, according to JCPS Chief Operating Officer Chris Perkins.

Pollio said the district will evaluate the success of the time changes next year, and that the district will make adjustments as needed.

Support for this story was provided in part by theJewish Heritage Fund.

News Youth Reporting
Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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