School start times zero sum game

One day after the Boston School Committee voted unanimously to change school start times next fall so teenaged students could get a little extra sleep, Boston Magazine published a story asking what took so long.

“Why, in a state that is at the forefront of progressive policy and respects science quite a bit …, did it take so long to adjust something as seemingly simple as a schedule of school bells? Why is changing start times ‘something no one thought was possible,’ according to a CBS interview with Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang?”

Well, now we know.

It turns out that changing school start times in Boston is a zero sum game. Because Boston has to stagger opening bells to make its bus schedule work, letting high school students start later means lots of elementary school students have to start earlier. Suddenly 6-year-olds are looking at the prospect of starting school at 7:15 a.m., which means they will have to get out of bed at 6 a.m. Their parents aren’t pleased.

“I cannot fathom waking him up that early,” said Erin Birmingham Anadu, referring to her son. “This concept that kids are early risers doesn’t apply to my family.”

Angry parents turned out in force Wednesday night at a followup School Committee meeting, many of them holding signs saying “Assault on Working Families” and “Students are not Widgets.” Five Boston city councilors — Michelle Wu, Tito Jackson, Ayanna Pressley, Matt O’Malley, and Annissa Essaibi George — urged the School Committee to put the changes on hold for at least a year. Two members of the School Committee indicated they were rethinking their earlier support.

On Thursday, opposition continued to grow, as another city councilor, Michael Flaherty, condemned the plan and the NAACP and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice came out against the proposal, saying it would disproportionately impact families of color. “It is shameful that BPS turned an opportunity to do right by our high school students into a justification for unrelated cuts that harm our youngest children,” the civil rights groups said in a statement.

Many suspect the real motivation for the new start times for elementary students is to save money in running the buses. School officials say they are running a $6.6 million deficit this year in the transportation budget. By having elementary school students start earlier, they will get out earlier in the afternoon and their buses will avoid the rush-hour traffic that has caused delays and driven up costs.

Even though opposition seems to be rising, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh isn’t backing down.  “We’ve had 30 years of starts and stops in Boston with making changes, and every time when something is about to move forward we seem to crumble on it,” Walsh said. “There are certain things you can’t crumble on. Start times and grade configurations are two things that will make a tremendous positive impact in our district.”



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