Boston Public Schools (BPS) has released new start and end times for 105 of the 125 schools in the system for the next school year and the reaction from parents and the community has been a smattering of applause and a chorus of boos.
BPS said it had an 18-month, 17-meeting community outreach effort and the use of an algorithm from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to help figure out the new start times. BPS focus was to have high school students start later—research has shown that leads to better academic results and is healthier for them—and for elementary school students not to be being dismissed after 4 p.m. BPS said that money saved on transportation costs under the new plan will be funneled back into the system.
BPS also said it will work with partners to ensure a range of before- and after-school programming options are available for students and families who experience changes in school schedules. The School Committee voted to approve the new policy on Dec. 6.
But BPS parents are criticizing BPS and the Walsh administration for the rollout of the new policy, citing an underwhelming community outreach and anger over the new times. Jamaica Plain City Councilor Matt O’Malley has also come out against the proposal.
To view the new school start times, visit bit.ly/2CJb0tr.
Jamaica Plain resident Patrick Banfield, who went through BPS schools from kindergarten through grade 12, has a son in kindergarten at Jamaica Plain’s Mendell Elementary School. That school’s start time is going from 9:30 a.m. to 7:15 a.m.
“My wife had reservations about the wacky lottery system,” he said. “With my reassurance our children could get a good education in BPS, we stayed in the city. Then BPS dropped this bomb on our lives 11 days ago. I feel betrayed.”
He went on to say, “The rollout was absolutely brutal. But the focus should also be on the joke of a ‘process’ that apparently went on for the 18 months prior. More senior BPS parents at the Mendell don’t seem to recall being surveyed regarding any specific start times. The ones I’ve spoken with only recall general survey questions such as ‘Would you be in favor of an earlier start time?’ When the start time is 930 a.m., it is no surprise many parents generally would say ‘yes’ to that question. That Superintendent Chang and others have been spouting off about parents had input and wanted these times, it is infuriating. No one asked for, or showed a preference for, the actual times they announced.”
Banfield said he has been receiving BPS emails and automated phone calls since his son started going to school in September, but that he never was surveyed about the new start times or given an invite to a community meeting about them. He said that the new policy is pitting “high schools against elementary schools; neighborhood against neighborhood; and parents against parents. BPS didn’t inform its principals until about 7 hours before the letter went out to parents. How is that possible?! The School Committee voted for a policy without knowing even the slightest specifics about actual start times. The incompetence, lack of judgment, and lack of process run across the system. BPS parents are fed up and will be demanding a real seat at the table in deciding policy that will be fair across the district.”
He added that it is “hard to ignore” that the new policy is being announced a month after the mayoral election and a few weeks before the holiday rush.
“Mayor Walsh, who appoints and controls the School Committee, thus avoided a firestorm of bad press before the election, while simultaneously giving parents an incredibly short window to push back on this madness,” said Banfield.
Jane Miller, a Roslindale resident who has three children at the Manning Elementary School in Jamaica Plain, said that the change is “drastic and unexpected” and will have “a long and far-reaching pact across the system.”
Under the new policy, her children’s start will change from 9:30 a.m. to 7:15 a.m. Miller said the family “could figure it out for most days,” maybe with some afterschool programs. But, she added, one of the reasons the family chose the Manning School was because of the school’s late start time, as the children’s father works nights and he now spends times with them in the morning.
Miller has started an online petition criticizing the new policy and calling for a delay of its implementation.
“Please ask that Superintendent Tommy Chang and Mayor Walsh put any changes on hold until further discussion is had,” the petition states. “Such radical changes to a family and community schedule should be made with care and caution and should be implemented slowly. We are asking that changes like this be made based on community input and not an MIT algorithm and that the education of our children be based on what is healthy for them, not what is healthy for the bus budget.”
The petition had 10,499 signatures at the Gazette deadline. To view the petition, visit bit.ly/2jvqCtm.
In response to the petition and other criticism of the policy, Mayor Martin Walsh released a statement through a spokesperson that said, “To secure a brighter future for our kids, we need to think long-term and big picture. Boston Public Schools made these changes to improve the school environment and have students be in the classroom during optimal learning time for their age. In addition to the 18 months of community feedback that BPS conducted prior to this policy change, BPS is holding meetings this week across the city to help determine how to best help families with this transition. I encourage all parents to attend these meetings and engage in productive conversations on concrete solutions. Our only mission is to ensure that every student in the city, no matter what neighborhood, has an equal opportunity for a high-quality education.”
O’Malley said in a phone interview the he opposes the new policy. He said that the later high school start times “make sense,” as the science for that move is “irrefutable.” But, he added, the new start times for elementary school students is “far too early.” O’Malley said that the 7:15 a.m. start time and 1:15 p.m. dismissal time for elementary school students is “a recipe for an ineffective school day.” He said he is in favor of a one-year moratorium for the new policy.