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BC committee examining school start times resumes work with new transportation data

Filed in Archive, District, District News by on September 19, 2019

With a growing number of health studies that support later start times for high school students, the Bethlehem Central School District established a committee of district stakeholders in the fall of 2018 to look at whether the district should adjust school start times to meet the needs of Bethlehem students.

Currently, the school day at Bethlehem High School runs from 7:35 a.m to 2:07 p.m., with an optional 9th period from 2:15 p.m. to 3 p.m. Bethlehem Middle School runs from 8 a.m. to 2:43 p.m.; and the school day at the district’s five elementary schools is from 9:20 a.m. to 3:20 p.m.

The BC School Start Time Committee met briefly at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year but suspended meetings so the district could locate experts to analyze the district’s bus transportation system, one of the most significant hurdles to altering school start times.  

On September 16, 2019, the School Start Time resumed its work by reviewing several alternative bell schedules, presented by a transportation consultant, that could allow for a later start time at the high school without dramatically increasing the need for additional resources. The alternative bell schedules were included in a report prepared for the district by School Bus Consultants (SBC), a private firm with expertise in design, management and operations of school transportation programs.

“The science is clear: high school students need more sleep,” said District Superintendent Jody Monroe. “Changing the start time at the high school, however, is a major decision. After a year we are still in the preliminary stages of this conversation but this study gives the committee some solid ground to start on.”

Superintendent Monroe said School Bus Consultants spent the last several months reviewing the district’s bus transportation system, which serves approximately 4,800 students across 52 square miles. They used quantitative data analysis that included routing and ridership to test different bell time scenarios that could allow the high school to start later than its current 7:35 a.m. The SBC team also interviewed transportation staff, district and school leaders, students and committee members to gather input and recommendations from all stakeholders.

At the Sept. 16 meeting, committee members asked that the consultants provide additional data on three of four transportation reconfigurations included in the report that could allow the district to push back the high school start time from the current 7:35 a.m. to between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., the optimal start time recommended by health experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics. The group rejected one of the preliminary scenarios that relied on dramatic changes to the elementary start and end times.

View a copy of the full Bell Time Study and Transportation Impact Analysis report.

As part of their initial report, School Bus Consultants found there were opportunities for greater efficiency in routing and utilization of buses within the Bethlehem fleet. Superintendent Monroe said the data team at SBC would be looking at some of those areas of improvement to maximize efficiencies in bus routing. That routing data would be applied to the bell schedules outlined in the initial report to give a clearer picture of the impact to students who ride the bus and on the fiscal impact of any changes being considered.

“Wellness is our goal here,” said Superintendent Monroe. “We want to have the most accurate data possible to ensure that whatever decision is made is one that is a benefit to our students.” 

Monroe said she expects the committee will meet again in November, but indicated that any decisions made as part of the School Start Time Committee’s work would not impact school schedules before the 2021-22 school year at the earliest.