School days for Katonah-Lewisboro middle school students would start at least a half-hour later under classroom-schedule revisions being considered by the Board of Education.
Addressing concerns that the middle school students—youngsters about 11 to 13 years of age—are not getting enough rest, the board will discuss the proposed hours change at its February meetings and could vote on it by March 7.
Middle-school doors now open at 7:30 a.m., 45 minutes earlier than they do at the high school. But the proposed rescheduling would open the high school and middle school at the same time, at either 8 or 8:10 a.m.
“There’s lots out there that suggests an ideal time for secondary schools would be 8:30,” Superintendent Andrew Selesnick told the Jan. 17 Board of Education meeting. In a presentation lasting more than 30 minutes, he outlined the potential schedule changes and their effects. Parents who spoke at the meeting largely supported the new hours.
The change could be adopted by the 2019-20 school year, Selesnick told The Katonah-Lewisboro Times, but cautioned that unforeseen complications could arise and cause delays.
If the board chooses either proposal, middle- and high-school students would have to share buses.
“Currently, our buses are well-under capacity; that’s what allows us to do it,” Selesnick said. “But we want families to understand ahead of time buses will be more crowded.”
The district would not hire any new drivers, Selesnick said, but would incur an additional expense to upgrade some smaller vans to full-size buses.
Replacing old vans with new ones would cost the district about $354,000. But to replace them with new buses would cost $538,000. Selesnick likened this to a $184,000 expense needed to accommodate the schedule change.
“It’s not exactly right to say it’s a one-time cost, because eventually those buses would have to be replaced,” Selesnick said.
Selesnick also said that bus rides could be longer for some routes but shorter for others.
“We’re fairly confident that we can make this change and, for most students, ride times would be about the same, plus or minus about five minutes,” Selesnick said.
In response to a question about how it would affect traffic in the morning, Selesnick said he did not know.
“We’re making no pretense that we know exactly what the traffic is going to be,” Selesnick. “We don’t know it what it would be like… it may get a little worse, it may not get too much worse.”
The changes would also eliminate a so-called “zero period” that begins in the high school at 7:30. Created in 2015-16, zero period allows some students to take classes like physical education or health, providing more flexibility in their schedule later in the day.
Other students use the extra period to load up their schedules with nine classes a day. At least one of them, Annika Carlson, the school board’s non-voting student member, expressed regret for taking so many classes. “If it didn’t exist,” Carlson said of zero period, “I would be just as well off.”
She urged that student health needs be factored into the equation. “I think the conversation around student health needs to include the idea that the pressure on students can be dissipated a bit,” Carlson said. “It’s not just the early wake-up times; it’s how late students are going to bed doing work the night before.”
The changes would also affect after-school activities and athletics. Currently, about 125 middle-school students who participate in after-school activities take the 3 p.m. high school buses home. They would not be able to do that under the new schedules.
However, late buses that drop off students at centralized locations would still leave the campus at 4:05/4:15 and 5:15.
Having the middle and high schools on the same class schedules would slightly alter athletic practice schedules as well, Selesnick said. Currently, the separate dismissal times permit a staggered practice schedule. Under the new plan, some practices would likely be delayed by 30 or 45 minutes.
“When they both end at the same time, some scheduling is going to have to occur that places one after the other, so it’s going to bump some of them a little bit later,” Selesnick said.
Despite these changes, most parents who spoke at the Jan. 17 school board meeting expressed support for the new times.
Ross Sacco applauded what he called a thorough and transparent presentation by the district that anticipated many concerns parents had.
“I was incredibly impressed that you guys completely disarmed the parents with these proposals,” Sacco said. “When we walked in, I think a lot of us brought our pitchforks and we were ready to go.”
Alicia Vigil said she supported the changes and urged the board to approve either of the new schedules.
“I’m really hoping we can get this done now finally after 20-plus years,” Vigil said.
Some elementary school parents remained concerned about their dismissal time. One proposal keeps the current 3:40 dismissal time while the other would dismiss students 10 minutes earlier.
Eric Toth said that many elementary school parents feel the day is “too late and too long.”
“I understand this a very, very complicated puzzle,” Toth said. “From my perspective, I feel like the piece that’s being forced into the puzzle is the elementary school piece... That’s a perspective that I don’t feel is well-represented in this plan.”
Cheryl Roppa agreed, seeing what she called a lack of emphasis on elementary school start time.
“With elementary school, kids do get home so late,” Roppa said. “By the time they have an after-school activity, and then they have to eat dinner, and then they have to do their homework, it does get to be very late for them... There are nights when my son might be doing his homework at 8:30 at night and he’s tired and frustrated and it’s very hard on all of us.”
Another elementary school parent, however, said it would be a “disaster” to try to get her student to school by 7:30 a.m. She preferred elementary school times remain where they are.
Selesnick said the proposals are intentionally conservative to ensure that bus drivers have enough time between their middle/high school runs and their elementary school runs. If it works well, he said, the times can always be adjusted the following year, possibly moving the middle/high school start times back to 8:15 a.m.
“It’s possible that if we were to go to this proposal next year, things might run more smoothly than we think,” Selesnick said.
If school board trustees preferred any plan, they did not tip their hand at the Jan. 17 meeting. One trustee, Dr. William Rifkin, said the presentation “very nicely illustrates that there is no easy answer.”
“Almost by definition there are going to be unhappy community members, happy community members and some who don’t care either way,” Rifkin said.
“I have my initial impression of what makes sense, “ he later added, “but I’m still going to keep all the options on the table.”
Trustee Terrence Cheng said student health and the affect that has on academics should be at the forefront of any decision the school board makes.
“I think we have to refocus what I believe is the ultimate benefit of more sleep in that it helps our students academically,” Cheng said. “It’s not about their athletic performance. It’s about being well-rested and having their brains in shape so they can do well in school.”
The proposals will be discussed at the school board’s upcoming meetings on Feb. 11 and Feb. 25 and at a series of daytime meetings (see box). A decision could be made at the board’s March 7 meeting.