Plan for new school start times draws fire

A change in policy at the Boston Public Schools means that 84 percent of the city’s 125 schools will have new start times next fall. The plan has drawn fierce opposition from parents.
David L. Ryan/Globe Staff 2016 files
A change in policy at the Boston Public Schools means that 84 percent of the city’s 125 schools will have new start times next fall. The plan has drawn fierce opposition from parents.

Hundreds of parents across Boston blasted Superintendent Tommy Chang Friday for changing the start times of dozens of schools for next fall, saying it will upend families’ schedules, force them to shell out more for child care, and put children as young as 4 at bus stops before dawn.

One parent, who said she was so frustrated about the changes that she could not sleep Thursday night, launched an online petition after midnight that calls on Chang and Mayor Martin J. Walsh to abandon the changes. The petition had gathered more than 2,600 signatures by late Friday night.

The mother, Jane Miller, has three children at the Manning Elementary School in Jamaica Plain, where the start time next fall will switch from 9:30 a.m. to 7:15 a.m., which will result in a 1:55 p.m. dismissal.


“Such radical changes to a family and community schedule should be made with care and caution and should be implemented slowly,” she wrote. “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.”

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The criticism emerged after the School Department notified families Thursday night about changing schools’ start times in an effort to let more high school students sleep in and to get more younger students out of school before 4 p.m. The School Committee approved that policy Wednesday night without examining any data on how the policy change would affect individual schools.

In the end, 84 percent of the city’s 125 schools will have new start times next fall. Although many parents like the idea of high school students getting to school more well rested, they are alarmed that so many schools in the lower grades will have dramatic changes to their start times, shifting by at least an hour in one direction or the other.

School officials devised the new start times with help from a team of MIT researchers, who created a special algorithm that can readjust bus routes when changing school start times. Along with improving education, school officials say the changes should result in transportation savings, although they do not know how much.

The changes pleased some parents.


“I’m ecstatic,” said Heather McCormick, a parent at the Bates Elementary School in Roslindale, where the start time will slide from 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. next year, enabling students to get dismissed well before sunset.

But many parents question whether the trade-offs are worth it.

Stephen Sullivan worries about what he is going to do with his two kids after school next year. They both attend the Lyndon K-8 in West Roxbury, where the start time will shift from 9:30 a.m. to 7:15 a.m., pushing dismissal to 1:15 p.m. He said he will probably be forced to pay for private baby sitters, because many after-school programs are already full.

“This is not good for working families,” said Sullivan, whose parents withdrew him when he was a child from the city’s school system over concerns about academic quality. “When it came to sending my kids to Boston schools, I was apprehensive, but I talked to other parents and heard it improved. . . . Right when you change your mind, they pull a stunt like this.”

Both Chang and Walsh declined interviews through spokesmen and instead issued statements.


“BPS is adjusting school start times with the aim to create a better, more productive learning environment for all students,” Walsh said in a statement.

‘We are asking that changes like this be made based on commu-nity input and not an MIT algor-ithm.’

Chang, who was out of town Friday attending a conference, said, “Start times were changed due to an abundance of research that shows student outcomes improve when secondary school students start later and elementary school students start earlier. We believe that the new times will better serve students and be reflective of the feedback we’ve heard during our robust community engagement process, as well as reflect the new School Committee policy.”

Some parents expressed weariness about having to go through another change in school operating hours. Over the past three years, the school system has added 40 minutes of daily instruction to dozens of K-8, middle, and elementary schools, pushing the dismissals later. That, in turn, caused parents to adjust work schedules, after-school programs, or child care arrangements.

The parents also blasted school officials for setting the start times without running them by individual schools first to see if families and teachers want them. School officials, however, said they sought input from parents citywide through surveys to get a sense of what families, teachers, and students wanted, receiving about 10,000 responses.

At the Haley K-8 in Roslindale, where the start time is shifting from 8:30 a.m. to 7:15 a.m., Nancy Allen, whose daughter attends kindergarten, said the 1:15 p.m. dismissal is “going to crush most families” and force children to endure very long days in school and after-school programs.

“We have after-school care through the Y until 6 p.m. for working parents,” she said in an e-mail. “This means that kids as young as 4 and 5 will have what amounts to a 10- or 11-hour day. If a two-parent household was to try to stagger their work schedules to arrange for dropoff and pickup, I can’t see what possible schedule they could have to accommodate a 1:15 pickup. That’s essentially a half day.”

Several parents at the Henderson Inclusion K-12 School in Dorchester expressed concerns that students with profound disabilities will have to get up too early in the morning because of the new 7:15 a.m. start next year. They also found it hypocritical that the school system is going to take away its 8:30 a.m. start, which is in the window of where it wants high schoolers to begin their day.

Maria Choukas said she is worried that her 14-year-old son could end up having more seizures if he wakes up earlier. As it is, she says, he is having too many in the mornings, forcing him to miss school.

“I am furious this is happening,” Choukas said. “He is not a typical kid, and they need to take that into consideration.”

A School Department official Friday justified the earlier start for the Henderson, noting many of the students with disabilities require special transportation, which can navigate the streets more smoothly in pre-rush-hour traffic.

Ping-Ann Addo, a parent at the Russell Elementary School in Dorchester, said she is worried about traffic congestion. Her school start time will move from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., pushing dismissal to 4:10 p.m. — the very time period the school system said it was trying to avoid for younger students.

The Russell is located along Columbia Road, not too far from the Interstate 93 interchange, which jams in rush hour as area businesses close.

“It’s a bad idea all around,” she said. “It’s sudden, disruptive, and troubling.”

James Vaznis can be reached at