After releasing new start and end times for 105 of the 125 schools in the system for next school year, Boston Public Schools (BPS) is putting the brakes on the new policy after blowback from parents and the community.
“Over the past few weeks, we have heard from families, staff, and stakeholders that there are concerns with the implementation of the new start and end times policy,” Superintendent Tommy Chang wrote in a letter posted on BPS website on Dec. 22. “After reflecting on this feedback, we understand that while the new schedule would achieve our goal of supporting academic success for all ages, the shifts to many school start times caused a more significant disruption to family schedules than we intended. That is why I have decided not to implement the new start and end times that we have proposed for the 2018-2019 school year.”
The letter goes on to say that BPS is committed on improving its engagement effort “with all of our families and community members to solve the problems necessary to build a more coherent school system. This includes developing a new schedule of start and end times for future school years that is grounded in equity and better meets the needs of our students and families. We must share a collaborative spirit, and work together to find solutions to repair the institutional inequities that persist.”
BPS had said prior to the Dec. 22 letter that 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 time policy. 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 dismissed after 4 p.m. BPS said that money saved on transportation costs under the plan would be funneled back into the system.
The School Committee had voted to approve the policy on Dec. 6.
But BPS parents had criticized BPS and the Walsh administration for the rollout of the policy, citing an underwhelming community outreach and anger over the new times. Councilor Matt O’Malley, who represents a portion of Back of the Hill, had also come out against the proposal.
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 would have went from 9:30 a.m. to 7:15 a.m.
“My wife had reservations about the wacky lottery system,” he said prior to Chang’s Dec. 22 announcement. “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 9:30 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.”
Jane Miller, a Roslindale resident who has three children at the Manning Elementary School in Jamaica Plain, said prior to Chang’s Dec. 22 announcement that the policy was “drastic and unexpected” and would have had “a long and far-reaching pact across the system.”
Under the policy, her children’s start would have changed 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 had started an online petition criticizing the new policy and calling for a delay of its implementation. It had more than 8,000 signatures before the Dec. 22 letter.