Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hillsborough parents, at least those sending emails, do not like planned changes to school hours

Some students at Lennard High School in Ruskin arrive before the sun rises. A plan under consideration by the Hillsborough County School Board would ask all high school students to report to their first class at 7:15 a.m. - 18 minutes earlier than this year. Many parents are not happy about the proposed changes. (LOREN ELLIOTT  | Times)


Some students at Lennard High School in Ruskin arrive before the sun rises. A plan under consideration by the Hillsborough County School Board would ask all high school students to report to their first class at 7:15 a.m. - 18 minutes earlier than this year. Many parents are not happy about the proposed changes. (LOREN ELLIOTT | Times)

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District's plan to change school hours, intended to save money and get more students to school on time, is running into strong opposition from parents with a range concerns, including how the proposal would affect their family schedules.

A review of more than 400 emails sent to the district last week at the invitation of superintendent Jeff Eakins showed comments running against the plan by a margin of four to one compared with those in favor.

"An earlier start time for high school students is an absolute non-starter," wrote Nelson Potter, concerned that the opening bell for high school will be moved from 7:33 a.m. to 7:15 a.m.

Jennifer Crow felt the same about the middle school day, which would end at 4:25 p.m., 10 minutes later than this year. "As it is, my daughter gets home at almost 5 p.m.," she wrote.

The findings should not be considered an accurate measure of opinion, as people who are against the new schedule are naturally more motivated to write in.

Despite the remarks, district officials say their early focus groups showed more acceptance of the plan that is scheduled for a School Board vote on April 25.

"I'm listening. That is why the recommended changes are a proposal at this time," Eakins said Monday.

Restating his reasons for changing the times, he stressed the need to correct a system that has too many students arriving late to school.

"We know our current bell schedule does not meet the needs of all of our students," Eakins said. "We need to ensure they are not missing valuable instructional time due to late buses."

While the idea for a schedule change originated in a cost-cutting report by the Gibson Consulting Group, district leaders in recent weeks have touted other benefits, including more art, music and physical education for younger children and more planning time for teachers of all ages.

"The students that we talked to, at Sickles (High School) and in general seemed to be very excited about getting out of school earlier so they could do what they needed to do after school," district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said.

WHAT PARENTS THINK: Read a sampling of the emails submitted to the district about the proposed bell schedule here.

But parents and some students said the early start will further deprive teens of needed sleep.

The emails revealed common themes among families who are contemplating changes in their routines when school resumes on Aug. 10.

Many opposed start times that would be 35 to 50 minutes later than this year at most elementary schools, citing disruption to their morning schedules.

"I've organized my personal and work-life around the current bell schedule, which allows me to drop off my son at school every morning at 7:30 a.m.," wrote Lejla Mehicic, a single parent whose child is in fourth grade at Deer Park Elementary in Citrus Park.

"He has breakfast at school and he is never late for class. I've even made it a point to secure a residence close enough to his school, so that we could maintain this schedule every day and I could still get to work on time."

Others said a later dismissal will make it harder for them to arrange doctor's appointments and after-school activities.

Some high school parents said they felt insulted by Eakins' statement that the proposed schedule — which dismisses students at 2:10 p.m., nearly an hour earlier than the current schedule — will help students with after-school jobs.

"What is more important — time in school or after-school activities?" wrote Naomi Mizell. "Especially jobs, really?"

Complaints also came from parents of magnet school children, who are now on street corners at 6 a.m. or earlier, waiting for buses and transfers. As magnet schools of all levels track with the schedules of early-starting high schools, the fear is that these journeys will begin even earlier.

"I mentor two third grade boys at Lockhart Elementary School," wrote Leslie Scalley. "Currently, they catch the bus at 6 or 6:15 a.m. for school, which starts at 8:20." Under the proposed 7:35 a.m. start time for the magnet, "they will be walking to the bus stop, in the dark, and then waiting there, in the dark, every single school day," with siblings as young as 5 years old.


WHAT IT MEANS

Here's what the proposed bell schedule would mean for each school in Hillsborough County:

High schools | Middle schools | Elementary schools


That concern, however, could be moot for many students. A newly released fact sheet from the district estimates more than a third of the early buses will be able to pick up students on their current schedules. The rest will change by only five to seven minutes. "Our goal is to make sure no one is picked up before 5 a.m.," the document said.

The emails included complaints about the focus group process, and the fact that the public was not informed of the proposed schedule changes until March — even though the district began to work on them in September.

Those emails favoring the changes were typically brief, such as this note from Ashleigh Kemp in Tampa Palms: "I don't see any problem with the revised bell schedule. Thank you for your consultation with parents."

A few took the opportunity to comment on other issues, such as student nutrition and the need for Spanish-language classes. More than one said the district should do away with early release days on Monday, which create planning time for teachers.

And there were dozens who did not state a preference, but asked questions, typically about the availability of childcare in the early morning hours.

Arja said the district plans to offer the HOST program for before- and after-school care at any location that needs it in the morning, and to find donors to subsidize the fees as needed.

The Tampa Bay Times is publishing a sampling of the parent letters in the online version of this article along with the full list of bell times, which is also available on the school district website.

Eakins said he is taking all the comments into consideration.

"We are asking for feedback to help shape the final recommendation, based in part, on the information we are receiving," he said.

The new schedule, if approved, would resemble the one now in use in Pinellas County. There, students begin high school at 7:05 a.m. — 10 minutes earlier than the planned time for Hillsborough. Elementary school in Pinellas, with some exceptions, starts at 8:35 a.m. and middle school starts at 9:30 a.m., identical to the proposed time in Hillsborough.

In Pasco County, school begins as early as 7:25 a.m. for Wiregrass High and as late as 9:40 a.m. for many elementary schools.

The district will continue to take comments at [email protected] until the board vote, and afterwards.

While Gibson Consulting recommended a change in bell times to save the district $2.7 million a year, Eakins insists cost is not the primary reason. Rather, he said last week, it is an attempt to correct an ill-designed system that has some buses arriving chronically late.

"This is an issue about equity," Eakins told the School Board. "Every single one of our elementary students should be arriving on time and getting the maximum minutes for school. Currently that is not happening in Hillsborough County. We are robbing minutes of our students, of quality instructional time, and we have to do something different."

If the schedule is approved, district officials said they will send post cards out during the summer advising families of the new bus schedules.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 810-5068 or [email protected] Follow @marlenesokol

Hillsborough parents, at least those sending emails, do not like planned changes to school hours 04/10/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 11, 2017 10:36am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Forecast: Break out those sweaters, Tampa Bay, as cooler weather just a day away

    Weather

    Tampa Bay residents will finally be able to break out their sweaters and boots this week, but not until enduring yet another humid, rainy day to start the workweek.

    Tampa Bay's 7-day forecast. [WTSP]
  2. Justin Timberlake in Super Bowl halftime show for first time since 'wardrobe malfunction'

    Celebrities

    Justin Timberlake has finally been invited back to the Super Bowl halftime show, 14 years after the "wardrobe malfunction" with Janet Jackson caused a national controversy.

    Singer Janet Jackson covers her breast as Justin Timberlake holds part of her costume after her outfit came undone during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston in 2004. The NFL announced Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017, that Timberlake will headline the Super Bowl halftime show Feb. 4 in Minnesota, 14 years after the "wardrobe malfunction" with Janet Jackson cause a national controversy. [Associated Press]
  3. Here's what happened when 30 high school sophomores gave up their phones for a day

    K12

    LUTZ — They were everywhere at Steinbrenner High School. Teens with panic-stricken faces, furiously slapping one thigh, then the other.

    Grace Hayes, 15, left, and Kai'Rey Lewis, 15, talk and text friends after having a discussion about smartphone technology in Tiffany Southwell's English Literature class at Steinbrenner High last week. Southwell asked theme to give up their phones for a day and write about it. For Lewis, the ride home that day "was the longest bus ride in my life." [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  4. Cuban media treats visit by Tampa City Council as historic event

    Politics

    TAMPA — Delegations of one kind or another have been traveling from Tampa to Cuba for years, even before President Barack Obama took steps to normalize relations between the two countries in December 2014.

    A Tampa delegation to Cuba this week was featured prominently in reports by the state-run media in Cuba, including Granma. From left are Tampa City Council vice chair Harry Cohen, St. Petersburg City Council Chair Darden Rice, Tampa philanthropist David Straz and Tampa City Council Chair Yolie Capin.
  5. As the curtain rises on the Straz Center's biggest shows, the spotlight is on parking

    Transportation

    TAMPA — The Broadway Series, the most lucrative shows of the year for the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, start this week, and this year the center wants all the drama to take place on stage, not during the drive to the theater.

    With downtown Tampa getting busier at night and on weekends, city officials and administrators from the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts have been working on ways to unsnarl traffic and help visitors find parking when there are lots of events at the same time. CHRIS ZUPPA   |   Times (2009)