'Stick a fork in it': Central York board all but scuttles later school start times
The plan to push secondary school start times later in the morning came to an abrupt end Tuesday night when Central York school board members said they heard residents loud and clear.
"I'm proud of the way we've taken this on, but it's now time, I think, to stick a fork in it and say it's done," said board member Gregory Lewis at town hall with about 75 residents and staff in attendance.
The overwhelming feedback from parent, student and faculty surveys sent out by the district as well as public comment was that residents did not want to see a change in secondary school start times.
As part of the district's three-year comprehensive plan from 2018 through 2020, officials planned to shift start times for middle and high school students to align with research recommending that teens start school no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to get sufficient sleep.
The district's proposal had been to either push secondary start times forward 30 minutes or flip school schedules, so elementary students would start earlier.
Central, like a majority of school districts across the state, has start times between 7:30 a.m. and 7:59 a.m., said Superintendent Michael Snell.
A report released in October by the state Legislature's Advisory Committee on Later School Start Times at Secondary Schools recommended the later schedule for schools statewide, showing 26 districts had already made the switch between 2011 and 2019.
Twenty-eight districts statewide were actively studying the issue publicly, and Central was among the first in York County to consider it. South Western School District switched its times in 2006, but to date no other districts in the county have followed suit.
"Do we really need to be at the vanguard on this?" said Lauren Russell, who has a son in kindergarten at Roundtown Elementary, suggesting the district wait for more research on how the change would affect elementary students.
Like Russell, many of those in attendance Tuesday night said they were worried about effects on their younger children.
In reviewing district survey data, middle school Principal Kelly Harper noted 82% of elementary parents were happy with current start times, and 65% wanted no change. Data shows 57% of secondary parents wanted no change.
Laura Bond, a parent of three children in the district, cited statistics from the American Academy of Pediatrics that stated younger children actually need more sleep than teens.
Valerie Veinotte, of Manchester Township, added that a study done on elementary schools in Kentucky after start times were changed showed more problems with behavior, academic performance and health for younger students.
The other primary concerns from parents were how this change would affect family life.
Older students would be getting home later from activities and spending evenings on homework, while younger students would be rushed to bed early to get a full night's sleep for an earlier school day.
"It gives us the ability to have quality time with each other," Bond said of current start times.
Adjusting start times would also affect parent work schedules, after-school student jobs and, in some cases, the need for child care for before or after school.
Janine Pflaum, who has a third grader at Stony Brook Elementary, said she knows there is a shortage of child care workers, and board member Joseph Gothie agreed child care costs were "outrageous."
Lindsay Veres, of Manchester Township, said there's financial considerations of families who rely on multiple jobs. Some part-time jobs don't offer flexible hours for picking up students from school, which limits the job opportunities available.
Gothie said it was the district's duty to look into the change believed to benefit student performance, but "the answer is, clearly the community doesn’t want it."
A motion was made to table the vote on the start times proposal until the board's action meeting Monday, Jan. 27, when the school board is expected to scuttle the proposal outright.
"We heard you, and you heard us," said board member Vickie Guth.