Combined school committees support start time changes for 2021-22

Last night, the school committees for Northborough-Southborough Public Schools supported a modified plan to change school bus tiers and start times for the school year after next.

The changes will mean Algonquin Regional students will Start School Later in August/September of 2021.

Advocates for allowing Algonquin students to sleep later shared news of success on social media late last night and this morning. It has been six years in the making.

The change to school schedules would move Algonquin’s start time from 7:20 am to 8:00 am.

(click to enlarge)

Based on discrepancies in information I’ve seen on social media, I’m unsure of the approved change for the Northborough K-8 school times. But I can share that the Southborough school times were the same as the proposed versions communicated by the district at the start of the month. (You can see those to the right.)

The agenda for last night’s meeting included a presentation of findings and recommendations by the School Start Time Task Force. The group was created as part of the district’s response to a parent led “Start School Later” advocacy group for Northborough – Southborough. On the group’s Facebook page, organizers shared that the proposal being brought to the committees was revised since the survey issued at the start of the month.

According to Facebook, the “overwhelming takeaway” from survey results was “significant support” for changing Algonquin’s start time and making changes to other schools to accommodate. But there was a clear objection from the Northborough community about a change that would have created more “parity” between the two Towns.

The original proposal had shortened Northborough’s K-8 school days each by 10 minutes. That still would have left them with more minutes in the K-5 school days than Southborough has.* But it was a change that Northborough didn’t support.

Earlier this month, a Task Force members shared on the Facebook Start School Later group that the length of Northborough K-8 school days would not be shortened. But a version of the approved plan circulated elsewhere on social media last night seemed to show Melican Middle School’s hours would be the same as originally communicated with the survey.

It also showed that Northborough Schools in bus tiers 2 & 3 would remain the same as current times. I’m not clear how that is possible without impacting Tier 1. That highlights the fact that the charts don’t indicate the pickup and dropoff schedules for buses, just official school hours.

Given those discrepancies (and the fact that I didn’t view the meeting), I plan to follow up with more details in coming weeks. (The video isn’t posted from the meeting yet. I’m hoping the presentation includes more details on impacts to busing times and the school budgets. Commenters on Facebook indicated that the approval of the plan doesn’t depend on Town Meeting votes. Presumably, that means a big budget spike isn’t expected.) 

Advocates for Start School Later have been working towards the Algonquin start time change since early 2014. In October 2018, the district formed the Task Force to work through the challenges and come up with recommendations.

Advocates across the country, including the American Pediatric Association, have pushed for high school start times to be no earlier than 8:30 am. Algonquin’s 7:20 am start time is among the earliest in the state. Challenges the Northborough-Southborough school administration has been grappling with include impacts on the bus schedules for lower schools, regional transportation costs, teacher schedules, athletic competition schedules, and after school schedules of students with jobs or younger siblings to care for.

The administration and school committees previously made clear that changes to the school start time would be announced over a year in advance. One reason was to give district families time to resolve any negative impacts to their schedules.

*Examining the length of the school days reveals that while Northborough K-5 schools each have 6½ hour school days, Southborough’s K-5 are only 6¼ hours.

Northborough’s Melican Middle School’s day is 6 hours and 25 minutes—3 minutes longer than Trottier Middle Schools hours. The schedule proposed earlier this month would reduce Melican hours by 10 minutes, making it 7 minutes shorter than Trottier.

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