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Brunswick County School Superintendent Edward Pruden presented board of education members a modification to his original proposal for school start times in 2014-2015 during the board’s finance committee meeting Tuesday, April 15.
Pruden asked the board to consider reversing the existing schedule, which would then require elementary students to arrive first and secondary students to arrive later in the morning.
His modified recommendation refines the actual school start and ending times, reducing the school day for all students in Brunswick County by 10 minutes.
The modification was based on a request by board chairman John Thompson for the system to investigate the instructional and policy implications of a slight reduction to the school day.
Results of that research showed the 10-minute reduction to the school day will still allow Brunswick County to comply with state calendar law and course credit requirements.
“This reduction would provide 1,050 instructional hours and a 25-hour make-up cushion to the required 1,025 instructional hour state requirement,” Pruden wrote in a memo to the board. “Our current school day provides 1,080 instructional hours.”
Most notable in the revised recommendation is the high school schedule, which ends the school day at 3:30 p.m., the same as the school district in neighboring New Hanover County. The proposed end time is designed to alleviate concerns about student participation in athletics, extracurricular activities or those who work after school.
If the board chooses to accept Pruden's recommendation, elementary school days would begin at 7:35 a.m. and last until 2:25 p.m. Middle school days would begin at 8:50 a.m. and last until 3:40 p.m. High school days would begin at 8:40 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m.
Pruden has said that the proposal to change the schedule arose from teacher and parent complaints about younger students suffering fatigue later in the day.
While Pruden has received several comments from parents in support of his proposed changes, other parents aren’t as excited.
Amber Whitener Callison, who has a son at Shallotte Middle School and two daughters at Union Elementary School, said the proposed start times would create major complications for her family.
“I will have a big issue with school times if they change it to elementary starting early again,” she said. “That leaves little kids that ride the bus getting on when it is still dark out. Also, (my son) is my sitter when I have to go to work. He gets home before I have to leave, but if they change it, he will not.
“Some older kids have to watch younger ones and it won’t work out if the younger ones get home first. I know some days when (my son) gets on the bus, it is still dark, and that is very dangerous for elementary kids.”
Callison said her students do not suffer from fatigue late in the day as Pruden indicated.
“They are fine,” she said. “They don’t have as much homework as the older ones do. Older kids have jobs, sports, etc.”
Other parents agreed.
“They really need to go back to the traditional schedule,” parent Crystal Davis Bowen wrote in a Facebook post. “Parents’ jobs work better with that, after-school activities work better with it and (it works better) for families with more than one child.”
A Facebook group, Parents and Students Against Brunswick County Schools Staggered Schedules, has more than 265 members. The parents have corresponded with school board members Catherine Cooke and Bud Thorsen, according to the group page.
Bill Twigg, who has two students at Union Elementary, said the staggered bell schedule will affect his family more this fall.
“For the past four years, our children have had a different school schedule each year,” he wrote in an email to the Beacon. “We voted for the current schedule for a variety of reasons. We are frustrated that this issue is being revisited again this year.”
Twigg said he takes other students to school so that their parents can get to work on time.
“I think it’s time we stop making excuses for kids,” Twigg wrote about Pruden’s suggestion that students needed more sleep. “I do not know of too many businesses adjusting your work schedule so that you will be a better employee by getting more sleep.
“And to say that the first hour of school is a waste…what an insult to those students who work hard to get the good grades they do and for the teachers that put their heart and soul into teaching them.”
Twigg said if the proposed starting times go into effect this fall, it will have negative impact on secondary students.
“If the schedule reverts to the later schedules for older students, these (extracurricular) activities will be limited and/or eliminated and they won’t be ready for 8 a.m. college classes.”
Twigg said he will always do what’s best for “our kids and their education.”
“We have been truly blessed by Union (Elementary) and the teachers that our kids have had over the years,” he wrote.
Katherine Norfleet is upset the decision is up for review again.
“The parents were allowed to vote last school year and a decision was made. Stick to it,” Norfleet, a parent of elementary school students, wrote in an email to the Beacon. “Everyone adjusted to the schedule as hard as it was for many. Now, Dr. Pruden wants to switch it up again and disrupt what families and businesses have grown accustomed to.”
Norfleet wrote, “The biggest problem I have with the proposed schedule is the release time. In speaking for my family, getting out just before 4 p.m. has created hectic and stressful school nights whether there are after school activities or not. I do not feel that getting out of school that late is beneficial for anyone. As far as the studies, Dr. Pruden keeps bringing up in reference to the “natural and different circadian rhythms of both young children and teens,” it doesn’t matter what time my 8 and 10-year-old go to school. I have to drag them out of bed every morning regardless of what time the bell rings. The take in time does not affect us as much as the release time.”
Norfleet said having her children to school by 8:45 a.m. has been easier on her family, “but at the cost of having a much later release bell has not been worth it.”
Tammy Kesky, who has one child at Shallotte Middle and another at West Brunswick, said the start times don’t impact her as much as other parents because both of her children are secondary students.
“I think split families (a family with students at the elementary and secondary level) have more issues with it,” she said.
Kesky said she’d be in favor of all schools beginning and ending at the same time. She said this makes after-school plans much easier for parents who take their children to and pick them up from school.
The board will consider Pruden’s recommendation during its next meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 14, at the David Sandifer Building in the Brunswick County Government Complex in Bolivia.
Sam Hickman is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.