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Jefferson County Board of Education overhauls school start times — again

Several dozen adults stand solemnly from chairs in a board room. Most of them are wearing red clothing.
Jess Clark
About two dozen elementary school principals donned red shirts and stood when their representative, Hazelwood Elementary Principal Courtney Grace, urged the board to consider start times of 7:30 a.m. or 8:40 a.m. for all elementary schools.

In an effort to patch up a broken transportation system, the Jefferson County Board of Education voted to consolidate nine school start times into three.

Jefferson County Public Schools will have three start times next year: 7:30 a.m., 8:40 a.m. and 9:40 a.m. That’s after the Jefferson County Board of Education voted 4-3 to approve an overhaul, scrapping this year’s brand new nine-bell schedule. The nine-bell schedule was part of the computer-designed transportation plan that imploded on the first day of school.

Of the two options JCPS staff presented to board members Tuesday night, the board chose “scenario 1,” which staff said will be least disruptive to families and schools’ schedules. The plan will require 49 schools to change their start times.

“I'm still not wholly satisfied with it,” District 3 board member James Craig said, calling it “the least bad option.”

“Scenario 2” would have put less strain on drivers, according to staff, and made routes shorter and more contained to one geographic area. It also would have gotten students to school on time more consistently, according to JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio.

“I would say they're close, but scenario 2 is better,” Pollio said.

However a majority of board members felt the change would be too drastic for families, since it would have required 87 schools to shift schedules.

It’s the second time in recent months the JCBE has approved significant changes to JCPS’ transportation plan in an effort to fix a botched busing overhaul amid an ongoing bus driver shortage.

The board voted 4-3 in April to end transportation at all but four magnet schools. JCPS staff presented the cuts as the only solution to providing reliable bus service to the majority of students. Many community members are outraged, and the Louisville Branch of the NAACP has called for the removal of Pollio and any board members who supported the cuts.

Even with the cuts and schedule changes, staff emphasized that students will still experience delays next year. Previously, JCPS Chief of Operations Rob Fulk said he anticipates students will lose 4-5 million minutes of instructional time over the course of the school year under the plan approved for 2024-2025. Staff say students have lost at least 18 million instructional minutes students have this year under the current plan.

Educators speak out and a mysterious ‘option 3’

Ahead of the vote, many parents were already vocal about their concerns with proposed start time changes. At the meeting, it was school principals who shared their frustration.

In a rare display of open opposition to district leadership, about two dozen elementary school principals donned red shirts and stood when their representative, Hazelwood Elementary Principal Courtney Grace, urged the board to consider “a third scenario” in which all elementary schools started at 7:30 a.m. or 8:40 a.m.

“The research is overwhelmingly in favor of younger students attending school earlier in the day, with adolescents benefiting from a later start time,” Grace said.

Middle and high school principals, however, were opposed to the unofficial third option.

“If 9:40 is a bad start time for elementary school kids, it's a bad start time for all of our kids,” Barret Traditional Middle School Principal Amy Strite said.

Pollio said, “There is no option 3,” though he admitted there had been “some exploration” of other options.

District staff appeared ready to mount a defense against elementary school principals’ demands. In a slide that was not publicly available before the meeting, JCPS Chief of Schools Robert Moore presented numerous “challenges” posed by moving middle and high schools to a later time. Those challenges included after-school sports and extracurricular activities, along with jobs and family responsibilities older students might have after school.

It was a presentation that clashed with previous overtures Pollio and other staff members made in 2023 to gain support for this year’s nine-bell plan. Then, Pollio argued that older students needed later start times, citing research showing it better matched their sleep patterns.

District 7 board member Sarah Cole McIntosh noted the discrepancy.

“I have a tremendous amount of concern around how we explain this to our communities,” McIntosh said. “And how we can expect that they're going to trust us this time, when the variables that we base our decision on last time have now shifted a school year later.”

Ultimately McIntosh supported moving forward with scenario 1.

Meanwhile, Louisville NAACP Education Chair Michelle Patrick urged the board to scrap both official proposals.

“The community should not be left to figure out what to do, while the board keeps making half-thought-out decisions. We demand a plan that serves all members of this community without exclusion, and restores the lost trust in the board's decisions,” Patrick said, adding that the racial tension in the city is being “magnified and ignored” by recent board actions.

Despite those concerns, a motion by Craig to move forward with scenario 1 got support from a majority of members. His first motion to move forward with scenario 1 failed, with support only from District 5 member Linda Duncan. But it drew the additional votes needed from District 4 member Joe Marshall and McIntosh after Craig added a caveat that JCPS utilize scenario 1 for one year only.

The board will require JCPS to come back to them by Dec. 1 with a new proposal for the 2025-2026 school year “to comply with the board's goals of early times for elementary — later for middle and high.”

Board chair and District 6 member Corrie Shull, District 1 member Gail Logan Strange and District 2 member Chris Kolb voted against proceeding with staff’s recommendation.

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

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