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  1. Education

Despite concerns, School Board okays earlier start time for Rushe Middle School

LAND O'LAKES — Despite concerns from parents, the Pasco County School Board has decided that Rushe Middle School students will start classes at 7:25 a.m. — the same time as neighboring Sunlake High — in the fall.

That's 75 minutes earlier than Rushe begins its day now.

District officials explained the change, aimed to create "efficiencies" in student busing as a new garage opens in Odessa. But parents had worries that traffic, bus safety and student attentiveness would worsen.

Parent Darren Cassels, who has three daughters, told the board that he did not think middle school students should ride on buses with high schoolers.

He spoke of the "opportunity for young students to be exposed to conversation and behaviors" that are not age appropriate, further noting that the children could be at bus stops together unsupervised.

"I understand that it's not unprecedented," Cassels said. "Nevertheless, my concerns remain."

Parent Mike Carballa, who has two sons, suggested that the potential for extreme traffic congestion deserved further study.

"Traffic without a combined bell schedule (with Sunlake) is already a struggle as it is," Carballa said.

He worried that backups could lead to young drivers making dangerous choices.

"I think as a matter of policy the entire issue, especially as it relates to traffic, needs to be considered," Carballa told the board.

Other parents wrote emails to the board, arguing that 7:25 a.m. is just too early.

"It has been proven that middle school age students (and high school ) should start later in the day as they would be more productive. (I have learned this at a few of my district trainings as well)," seventh-grade teacher and parent Michele Shumate wrote.

Board members said they also wondered about the potential safety problems the change could pose. Assistant superintendent Betsy Kuhn said district staffers plan to meet with county officials on April 11 to discuss impacts.

She noted that, when other schools with shared campuses moved to the same start times, they had to adjust traffic flows and alter dropoff lines.

"If this is something we can't make work, we will definitely come back to you," Kuhn told the board.

She had fewer reservations about putting children from a wide range of ages on the same buses. After all, she said, kindergarten through eighth-grade students shared buses when Shady Hills Elementary was placed on the Crews Lake Middle grounds during renovations.

"That worked very well," Kuhn observed.

The board ultimately approved the proposal, with the understanding that any needed revisions would come back for further consideration.

After the vote, Cassels said he would have preferred that things go his way. But, he added, "I feel better having said my piece."

The board action also moved the start time of Anclote High School back to 8:50 a.m., and set the start times for new schools Cypress Creek Middle-High at 7:25 a.m. and Bexley Elementary at 9:40 a.m.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or jsolochek@tampabay.com. Follow @jeffsolochek.

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