Public Board of Education looking into later classroom start times for students; opens up a can of worms.

News 100 redBy Walter Byj

February 4, 2015


Kelly Amos, Chair of the Halton Region District School Board mentioned to her colleagues a study done by the American Academy of Pediatrics that recommended schools delay the start of classes to no sooner than 8:30 am.
That brought about some lengthy comment and close to a can of worms of problems.

School busses - winterAmos took the information she had found a little further and recommended that the Halton Student Transportation Services (HSTS) research the possibility of realigning busing to all high schools to accommodate a later secondary school start time to any time between 8:45 and 9:15 am. Currently, secondary school start times in Halton vary between 8:05 am and 8:40 am.

Many pediatricians have argued that since students are not getting the up to 9 hours of sleep that is recommended, school start times should be moved back as students tend to be up late in the evenings. This is a greater concern in the US than in Canada as many US students have school day starts in the 7:00 am to 8:00 time period.
Was there unified opinion by the principals on this issue? Not yet.

How would this affect after school activities. To be determined.

Did an American study pertain to Canada? Maybe, we are not that different. Would this include the elementary students? Not at this time. Would this include the Catholic School Board? Talks are still in the preliminary stages.
The Transportation services would need to do, what could be a lengthy study on how to best realign the busing services. The busing handles both elementary schools and the Catholic board. A change to one would affect busing timetables and perhaps costs to the entire system. The school board is hoping for a report hopefully in March with the details and ramifications of any changes. They didn’t get a report – they got a letter that asked a lot of questions the trustees might have thought about before they passed the motion.  Somehow the HRSB managed to place the cart before the horse with the following motion:

Be it resolved that the Halton District School Board request the HSTS to do a study that would look at high school start times and to realign busing to all high schools to a start time roughly between 8:45 a.m. and 9:15 a.m., and attempt to bring an interim report back to the Transportation Committee in March 2015 with the details and ramifications.

Shouldn’t the entire school boards, elementary, secondary and Catholic all be in agreement before further analysis? What percentage of principles would want a time change before changes are made? And what about the students, should they be consulted?

Along with the Motion were two recommendations:

Be it resolved that the questions identified in Appendix A be forwarded to the Transportation Committee in order to provide direction on the parameters required to complete the study.

Be it resolved that the Chair of the Halton District School Board contact the Chair of the Halton Catholic District School Board to assess their interest in participating in the study.

Karen Lacroix, General Manager of the Halton Student Transportation Services (HSTS) sent Lucy Veerman, Superintendent of Business Services and Treasurer a memo; it’s a beauty.

The purpose of this memo is to request clarification and direction regarding Halton District School Board (HDSB) Report #14154 and the associated motion M15-004 requesting HSTS undertake a study of high school start times with the intent of moving all high school start times between 8:45 a.m. and 9:15 a.m. The motion also contained a request that an interim report be brought back to the Transportation Committee in March 2015 and that the report include details and ramifications.

As you are aware, the home to school student transportation system in Halton is fully integrated with the Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB). This means that virtually every bus route in Halton is shared between the HDSB and HCDSB in one way or another; either students from both boards ride together at the same time or the bus route consists of bus runs servicing one or more HDSB schools and one or more HCDSB schools.

Prior to undertaking a study of this scope and nature there are assumptions that must be confirmed and parameters that must be set. Unless otherwise directed, it will be assumed that the study will exclude the small bus routes that service students with special needs and that no changes to HCDSB school hours will occur as a result of this study.

In order to assist the board with setting parameters, HSTS staff have developed a list of questions:

1. What is the earliest and latest start time for both elementary and secondary schools?

2. Is there one preferred start/end time for secondary schools or is there flexibility to work within the range outlined in the report (8:45 a.m. – 9:15 a.m.)?

3. Can we continue to use a 30 minute drop off/pick up window for secondary students? (This is the standard across the province and the window that HSTS currently uses for secondary students)?

4. Can elementary start/end times be changed to accommodate the secondary school hour changes?

5. If elementary schools can be changed, what is the acceptable (maximum) time change, e.g. up to 15 minutes?

6. Are there specific schools that cannot be changed?

7. Should the secondary student average ride times be maintained or can they be increased but kept within the maximum travel time guidelines of 75 minutes?

Outlined below are other factors the board may want to consider:

1. There is a school bus driver shortage in Ontario, it is particularly challenging in the GTA. If the number of routes increase significantly, the level of service will most likely be felt across the system, which may result in late buses, different drivers and a potential for rolling route cancellations if there is no driver available.

2. There are many secondary runs that are shared between the boards. The shared runs will have to be eliminated if the HCDSB is not included in the study, this will result in a loss of some routing efficiencies.

The requested study is very complex in nature and there is not an easy or quick way to provide a summary or overview. In order to provide the board with a report that will allow them to make an informed decision a full review of all school start/end times and a full optimization of the bus routes should be performed. Once the bell time/route optimization study is complete, an accompanying financial impact study will have to be undertaken to understand the associated financial impact/savings on the HSTS operating budget.

Undertaking a study of this nature is complex and labour intensive; the study will require a thorough review and optimization of the student transportation system. At this time of the year when staff are not dealing with their daily transportation priorities, their main focus is on route planning for the upcoming school year which starts in February and continues through August.
In order for the board to make informed decision they must be provided a true picture of the impact, from both a school community/hour and financial perspective. HSTS staff has expressed concerns that a study of this nature will result in time and resources being diverted from their normal daily activities, including annual route planning, which is not ideal and could have a negative impact next September.

In order to have a report back to the board in April or May, HDSB may want to consider contracting out the route planning portion of this study; HSTS staff would undertake the financial impact portion of the study. In 2009 First Student Planning Solutions performed a similar study of secondary school hours for the HDSB. This approach would allow HSTS staff to focus on the daily operations and September 2015 route planning.

In conclusion, with the above approach the board could be provided a report in the spring that would provide them with the information required to make an informed decision.

Expect this issue to occupy hours of coffee chat between parents, even more hours of telephone calls between parents and trustees and perhaps some noisy delegations at school board meetings.

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3 comments to Public Board of Education looking into later classroom start times for students; opens up a can of worms.

  • James

    Are you kidding me??? Everyone reading this article grew up and survived quite well having to get up and go to school at the regular time. This isn’t about a minor shift in school hours, it’s way bigger than that. It’s called responsibility. If kids need 9 hours of sleep, then go to bed earlier. How is coddling kids who can no longer receive failing grades because of how it might make them feel, or letting them get a little extra sleep in the mornings so that they don’t have to cut back on their texting and video game time in the evenings, how is that going to prepare them for the real world? You think being a kid is tough, try being an adult! Miss an important assignment at school, they give you an extension and a passing grade. Miss an important assignment at work, you’re fired. It’s a competitive world out there, especially in the GTA where there are far more qualified people than there are jobs, and those who are unprepared face a rude awakening.

    I thought the purpose of school was to prepare children and teenagers for their future, so that they can grow up into responsible and contributing members of society. What schools are doing nowadays is a complete disservice to the children they’re coddling. I see it every day… fresh faced graduates full of confidence and swagger about to enter the workforce, COMPLETELY unprepared for life. No work ethic. No common sense. No focus. No basic knowledge of how the world works. No ability to adapt. And it’s getting worse. The fact they’re even considering this time shift is evidence that our school system’s priorities are way out of line with where they should be.

    • Lucy

      Well no James, not everyone reading this grew up in a time with these earlier starts to school. My high school classes started at 9:00 am as a teen in the 60’s and I’m glad that was the case. The earlier start times came later. As a retired high school teacher (I taught that level in the 80’s>), my experience with the earlier times was negative as far as the students were concerned. Too many were too tired to focus and be attentive in first period which started at 8:05. (It was not as bad, though, when we had a start of 8:30.) Many had not had breakfast either, because they claimed it was too early for them to feel hungry when they got up. I practised a gentle approach in first period, even allowing them to bring food to the classroom to eat later in the period…all were respectful of the need for cleanliness…I had one of the cleanest classrooms in the school. I often let students go ahead and rest their heads, close their eyes and at least try to listen to the lesson. Patience and kindness went a long way with those kids. Adolescents have a lot going on in their bodies and brains in this period. There are enough studies from the past few decades that suggest teens benefit from the later (old fashioned?) start time. It is a shame that transportation issues is a chief reason why times are set as they are, but I understand the financial aspect of the problem. Perhaps, decades ago more students were within walking distance of their local school and there was less need for buses, which saved the Boards money. I do agree with you about the decline in academic standards. The not failing policy is truly misguided. I also taught the elementary level in the 70’s and that’s when Ontario began that craziness. Declining standards are well documented. In the 60’s high school environment, getting a high average in the 90’s was very difficult and rare. Today, with so much pressure from parents that their kid is an A student, so many score high but it is meaningless. I actually had a principal tell me to lower my standards because there were not enough students getting A’s in my class. Unbelievable! I told him no way. You might find the site below interesting.(Apologies, with getting carried away here with such a long post.)

  • I have always thought this was a good idea. My son is NOT a morning person and am pretty sure he sleeps though his first class of the day. With a later start he may actually retain something from this first class. Assuming that I can get him to bed at the same time as usual.