Boston school officials, facing mounting backlash from parents, civil rights leaders, and city councilors, announced Friday that they would reconsider new start and end times for schools next fall, but it remains unclear what kind of changes will be made.
Superintendent Tommy Chang informed families of the development in a letter Friday and said new bell schedules would be set in mid-January, which could create confusion for some families who would be in the midst of school registration for next fall.
“The Boston Public Schools [BPS] has heard the concerns of families about next year’s bell time changes,” Superintendent Tommy Chang wrote in the letter. “BPS is committed to addressing the input we’ve received and trying to find solutions to concerns that have been raised. Schedules will be finalized in mid-January. BPS hopes this additional time will allow the district to work through issues that have been shared regarding start and end times.”
Chang’s announcement did little to appease parents who have been pushing for a one-year moratorium on the plan.
“We won’t back down,” said Jane Miller, a parent at the Manning Elementary School in Jamaica Plain, where the start time will slide from 9:30 a.m. to 7:15. “People are really angry. As a parent, you will do anything for your children and what is right for your children.”
Miller, one of the organizers of Start Smart BPS, a grass-roots campaign to stop the changes, said parents are planning to turn out in force to protest at Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s inauguration on New Year’s Day. An online petition the group launched a week ago to stop the changes has garnered more than 8,000 signatures.
Miller, as well as other parents, wrote off Chang’s decision as a poorly conceived tactical move to quell parent opposition and noted that the release of new bell times during school registration could force parents to reapply to schools if the new bell schedules conflicted with their work schedules.
“Unfortunately, I think it is just a stall tactic,” said state Representative Edward Coppinger, a West Roxbury Democrat, who opposes the new bell times and has a child at the Lyndon K-8 School, where its 9:30 start would shift to 7:15 next fall. “I think school officials are dug into this plan that has a lot of flaws.”
The controversy over the bell times erupted a week ago after the School Committee approved a policy that aims to have more high schools start after 8 a.m. and more elementary and K-8 schools get out before 4 p.m.
The next day, the School Department unveiled new start times at 84 percent of its 125 schools. Most of the high schools will start after 8 a.m., but more than three dozen elementary and K-8 schools will start at 7:30 a.m. or earlier, representing a shift of more than two hours for many families.
Parents say the early starts will cause students to show up to bus stops in the dark and to school totally exhausted, while dismissals as early as 1:15 p.m. will force families to pay more for after-school programs or child care. The latter is especially offensive to parents because school officials have also said they want to change bell times to save money on transportation, which is running a nearly $7 million deficit this year.
Chang made his announcement two days after Walsh vowed he would not “crumble” over the plan to change school start times and despite the protests of about 200 parents who packed a School Committee meeting that night to voice their frustrations.
Meanwhile, a growing number of city councilors this week have been denouncing the changes, with more than half of them calling on school officials to halt the changes.
City Council President Michelle Wu, in a passionate plea, took to social media Friday morning, promising to vote down the school budget next spring if school officials proceeded with the new bell schedules.
“It seems to me BPS is attempting to rein in transportation costs at the expense of working parents who will need to find child care & manage the physical/emotional toll of young kids subjected to 11-hour days,” she wrote.
Councilor Andrea Campbell, who will become the council’s new president in January, said on Friday that the school system needs to redo the plan.
“I have received hundreds of calls and e-mails about this, and folks and families are not happy,” she said. “These changes put families already struggling financially in an unreasonable situation.”
Councilor Tim McCarthy also posted on social media Friday, reminding parents of the hearing order that the other councilors approved this week to examine the new bell time changes. In an interview Friday afternoon, he added that he hopes the plan is not set in stone.
“For me, I think the plan came out with good intentions, but because of the lack of communication with teachers, administrators, kids, and parents, it was dead on arrival,” he said. “I’m asking the School Committee to rethink this, and Dr. Chang to rethink this.”
Chang said in an interview after sending the letter out, “there will be some changes” in the bell times.
He acknowledged the release of the revised schedule in the middle of January could prompt some families registering for schools to change their selections. To assist in that effort, Chang said the school system is taking steps to make it easier for parents to change their choices during registration. He also said the first round of registration, which begins on Jan. 3, will be extended to Feb. 9.
“Let’s get this right,” he said. “There are challenges with those bell times for some families, but we have heard from other families who are happy with them.”
The school system is holding 10 community meetings on the bell schedules next week, starting in West Roxbury and East Boston.
Chang said he does not want to delay the changes for a year as parents requested because he feels an urgency to roll out the new bell times for high schools, almost all of which will start after 8 a.m.
He noted that mounting research shows a clear academic and mental health benefit for teenagers, who fall asleep later at night, in starting school later.
But many parents counter that the system’s youngest children should not be deprived of sleep as a consequence. Erik Gehring, the father of two sons at the Lyndon K-8 School, called the one-month delay “absolutely not sufficient.”
“People are going to choose to leave BPS and the city all together, and families who can’t afford to do anything will be saddled with tired children and the financial burden of extra day care in the afternoon,” he said. “They need to push this off for a year. It’s clear they have not been operating in good faith.”