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JCPS parents weigh in on start times proposal ahead of board vote

A sign in front of the JCPS VanHoose Education Center.
Liz Schlemmer
The Jefferson County Board of Education is scheduled to vote Tuesday on new proposed school start times.

Parents in Jefferson County Public Schools have numerous concerns about a proposal to overhaul start times again.

Ahead of a key vote by the Jefferson County Board of Education on a new start times proposal, parents say they still have many questions and concerns.

The JCBE plans to vote at its meeting Tuesday on a plan to reconsolidate Jefferson County Public Schools’ nine start times into three: 7:30 a.m., 8:40 a.m., and 9:40 a.m.

The board is considering two proposals to do so. One scenario makes fewer changes to schools’ schedules, and a second scenario with more dramatic changes would be more efficient and result in more on-time service, staff say.

Some are calling for better dialogue between JCPS central office and the community.

Job plans on ice

JCPS mom of three Taryn Bell was thinking she might finally be able to get a job this fall: the first time in many years that all three of her children would be in full-time public school.

“This was actually supposed to be my breakthrough of, ‘Finally I can do something for myself,’” Bell told LPM News.

It’s also a financial necessity. Bell’s husband recently became disabled due to a medical complication. Bell said he’s unable to work, but he hasn’t been approved yet for benefits. Now, they’re facing utility disconnect notices.

But looking at the scenarios proposed by JCPS staff, Bell still isn’t certain she’ll be able to work a nine-to-five job like she planned. Both proposals create challenges for Bell, who would have to manage at least two different start times without a car.

“I'll have kids at three different schools, and by those times that they're proposing, I'm going to be a nine-to-five, getting my children on the bus,” Bell said.

It’s the second year in a row Bell has been thwarted in her job search due to JCPS transportation issues. Last year, Bell said she was “counting down” all summer for her youngest to start at a JCPS early childhood education center, which is free to four-year-olds from low-income families.

But after the busing fiasco, JCPS cut nearly all transportation for its youngest learners, allotting some parents a $5 daily stipend instead. Bell uses that stipend to pay her fare to get her daughter to and from pre-K on TARC, Louisville’s public transit system. But it takes an hour each way, meaning Bell spends about four hours on the bus each day getting her 4-year-old to and from school.

“That’s just preschool. I’m dreading to even figure out this coming year,” Bell said.

Mill Creek Elementary School mom Latasha Moss can relate. Moss told LPM she started an entirely new career, in part, to manage this year’s nine-bell schedule and the uncertainty of bus delays.

“I literally switched jobs,” Moss said. Moss said she thinks JCPS should leave the current bell times in place, or move to the old two-bell system.

“Parents build their careers, or their job choices, around their kids and what works best, and it's almost inconsiderate,” she said of JCPS.

JCPS staff say sticking with the current start times is not an option, given the amount of instructional time students are already missing because of delays. Staff also say moving to the old two-bell system is unfeasible due to a shortage of drivers.

Parents want better dialogue with district

Other parents say they are not convinced district staff have all the data and public input they need to make the best decision on changes.

Sarah Coty has children at duPont Manual High School and Noe Middle School. The schools are next door to each other in Old Louisville, so JCPS staff put them on different start times over concerns about traffic.

Coty said the 70-minute gap between their bell times creates a hardship for families who have children at both schools, neither of which will provide transportation.

“I wouldn't have enough time to go home and come back,” Coty said. She also said it limits carpool options for Noe and Manual students at a time when both schools are seeing their transportation cut.

Many magnet school parents question why magnet schools can’t pick their own start times since JCPS cut their transportation. However, district staff note those schools have to be included in the district’s overall busing plan because they still have a small number of students the district is legally required to transport. Federal laws require districts to transport students with certain kinds of disabilities, as well as students facing homelessness.

JCPS mom Melissa King is worried about getting a 9:40 a.m. start time for her kids, both of whom attend Camp Taylor Elementary School. King says her children started performing better this year when Camp Taylor moved to an earlier start time, which is more in line with what research says is better for younger children.

“If that 9:40 a.m. time slot meant that all children in the district would get to school on time, I would be willing to get on board with that, but it doesn't,” King said, noting that district staff have repeatedly emphasized that while their proposals will reduce delays, no proposal will eliminate delays.

King said she’s also frustrated with what she sees as a lack of true dialog between JCPS’ central office and the public. King said the virtual information session staff offered last Tuesday was not adequate engagement.

“When you stream on YouTube and people can't attend in person and can't ask questions truly in a live way—that's not a forum,” she said.

She also noted JCPS provided an online form and a texting option for asking questions, but not for taking comments.

“It was very clear in the instructions that they were not seeking your feedback, only wanting to know what you didn't understand or what you needed clarified,” she said.

The JCBE plans to vote on the bell times during its 6:00 p.m. meeting Tuesday at the VanHoose Education Center.

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

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