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District steps up plans for 8 a.m. start time at BCHS

Filed in Archive, District, District News by on February 27, 2020

The Bethlehem Central School District — which has been examining the feasibility of a later start time at the high school since 2018 — is one step closer to an 8 a.m. start time for students in grades 9-12, a change that could take place as early as next school year.

clock with textThe announcement to fast-track a later start time at the high school was made at the Feb. 26 Board of Education meeting. It follows a unanimous agreement Tuesday by the district’s School Start Time Committee to move the start time at the high school from the current 7:35 a.m. to 8 a.m. As part of the committee’s recommendation, there would be no change to the start times at the district’s five elementary schools. A five-minute adjustment to the start time at the middle school may be necessary to accommodate the new start time at the high school, a detail that will be determined as the district works out a formal plan.

“There is still quite a bit of work to be done before this could be implemented for September,” said Superintendent Jody Monroe. “What the actual schedule might look like and what our new high school dismissal time will be are details that need to be finalized first. After those are determined, our focus will turn to stakeholder outreach so our students and staff, parents and the community at large are fully informed of the reasons for the switch and what, if any, impact will accompany this change.”

Monroe said the decision to move quickly is two-fold: the district’s commitment to student wellness and a recently-completed transportation study that would reconfigure transportation routes, utilization and schedules with little to no impact on the district’s budget or the service being provided to students.

The transportation study was conducted by School Bus Consultants (SBC), a private transportation consultant hired by the district. SBC had originally presented four start-time options to the committee in September 2019. At that meeting, committee members rejected a proposal that would have allowed the high school to begin at 8:30 a.m. To do so would have required the elementary schools to begin at 7:35 a.m. and dismiss at 1:35 p.m. The committee did not support such a drastic change for elementary students and instead asked the consultants to focus on a transportation plan that could allow both the middle school and high school to start at 8 a.m.

The plan required School Bus Consultants to conduct an in-depth feasibility study on moving from the district’s current three-tier bus system to a two-tier bus system to allow both schools to start at the same time.

School Bus Consultants told the Start Time Committee at its Feb. 25 meeting that they were able to find efficiencies within the transportation system to develop the two-tier structure in a way that would not require more buses or more drivers. The current three-tier system requires the bulk of the district’s fleet to be available for each of the three bus runs: high school, middle school and elementary school. With a two-tier system, more efficient routing and schedules would allow the full fleet to be divided to accommodate both high school and middle school within the same timeframe. Middle school and high school students would continue to ride on separate buses with a two-tier structure.

“For more than a year and a half, this committee has had student wellness as its number one priority and the extra sleep time, experts tell us, is key to our students feeling more alert and being better prepared for the school day,” said Monroe. “They have worked hard examining any potential impact on students, staff and families, talking with transportation consultants, considering fiscal challenges and respecting differing viewpoints.

“In the end, all members of the committee — students, administrators, staff, parents and board members — have agreed that allowing high schoolers to start school at 8 a.m. is a positive move,” said Superintendent Monroe. “We hope to make that move a reality sooner rather than later.”

Superintendent Monroe said she will be providing regular updates — and opportunities for feedback — regarding this potential time change at the high school to all district parents and families, as well as to high school students, as the planning process moves forward.