Residents pepper school board with start time questions

How will change be measured? Where is data on injuries, tardiness, early dismissals?

By Josh Bickford
Posted 10/16/19

Has the change in school start times been a success, a failure or something in between?

That's just one of the questions residents asked members of the Barrington School Committee during the …

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Residents pepper school board with start time questions

How will change be measured? Where is data on injuries, tardiness, early dismissals?

Posted

Has the change in school start times been a success, a failure or something in between?

That's just one of the questions residents asked members of the Barrington School Committee during the public comment period of the Oct. 3 meeting. 

Dr. Lisa Daft was the first to approach the microphone, and she did not hold back her true feelings for the district's start time change.

"I've been in the Barrington School system for 14 years and never have I been so disappointed in our school committee or our administration," Dr. Daft said. "Implementing a divisive policy was wrong, allowing our teachers contract to lapse was worse. Now, as leaders of our community, you won't accept that your plan and policy have significant flaws. In fact, you'll twist the truth or lie about what's happening rather than try to fix them."

Dr. Daft delivered a list of alleged problems or issues associated with the shift in school start times, which moved the high school and middle school start times to about 8:30 a.m.

She said buses are "still arriving late at Hampden Meadows, the high school and the middle school. Is this a concern for the district or are we expected to accept this as the new normal?"

Dr. Daft also said she had visual proof of elementary school buses operating without monitors. She said that while the district might be in compliance with the Rhode Island Department of Education's requirements, officials are still putting Barrington's youngest students at risk.

Dr. Daft spoke about school transportation. 

"To say the buses are all running on schedule is a lie. I couldn't believe I read that in an email," she said. 

Other issues alleged by Dr. Daft included problems with sports teams ("The field hockey JV is being coached by students," she said); student-athletes not having enough time to warm up prior to sports games because Barrington schools are dismissing later; occasional early dismissals and missed instructional time to accommodate some athletic games; and problems with G period at the high school.

"Kids are asking to go to the bathroom, but really they are going to find a teacher so they can open the locker room so they can get changed," Dr. Daft said.

Dr. Daft concluded by questioning how the school committee planned to measure the success or failure of the new start times.

"Your idea of data collection seems to be a farce," she said. "If you wanted data you would have conducted a sleep survey of the kids last year. If your goal is more sleep, how will you prove this?

"The concerns need to be resolved. You implemented this. You owe it to us to be open and transparent about what is happening because it's not all great."

School committee members would not answer any of the questions during the public comment period, citing the state's Open Meetings Act. However, the Barrington Times reached out to Dr. Megan Douglas, the chairwoman of the school committee, and asked how the district planned to measure the effectiveness of the new start time changes.

"(Barrington Superintendent of Schools) Mr. (Michael) Messore has explained a few times that his scheduling task force, composed of administrators and a teacher, will be meeting in October to put together a list of data points that they will be following. For example, we have annual data on bus ridership, attendance, tardies, disciplinary referrals, mental health referrals, program participation, and the like. We also have data on academic achievement. And, we have two annual surveys looking at mental health and substance use parameters at the high school. Per the strategic plan, we are also looking to develop a more comprehensive survey for students, looking at mental health parameters, health parameters and school culture questions," Dr. Douglas wrote in an email.

"Of course, all of this data will take time to collect and will not be available for comparison until the spring at the earliest, as is typical with any large scale educational initiative. And, comparison of these data points will only give us part of the story."

Dr. Douglas said she has already heard from "many grateful students and families" regarding the start time change.  

"It is important to keep in mind that many of the benefits of start time change have been repeatedly demonstrated in other communities for students beyond what we have the capacity to measure. For example, we have a strong scientific basis to expect that car accidents rates, illness rates, mental health resiliency, and long term health parameters (like diabetes, obesity, etc.) will all be impacted positively by later start times for adolescents," she wrote. "There are also many reports of a qualitative improvement in the schools that is difficult to measure but has been repeatedly noted in multiple districts. Changing start time is no longer a novelty idea—and many districts are changing based on previous data and moving forward with that decision just like we did with all day kindergarten and project based learning."

'Show us you're listening'

Sara Bonneau opened with two statements for the school committee.

First: "The assertion that those of us opposed to the school start time change do not care about the wellbeing of our children and are not evolved needs to stop," she said. 

And second: "The blanket statement that those opposed to a school start time change do not understand or value scientific research needs to stop."

Ms. Bonneau said she and other parents who are opposed to the start time change care deeply about the well-being of their children. She later said that since local students and teachers have to be constantly evaluated and put through the rigors of standardized assessments, the school committee should as well.

"Show us the data," she said. "Stop chanting … 'Change is hard.' It's getting old. Show us the measurable evidence."

Ms. Bonneau asked if the district had done any pre-implementation surveys on children suffering from obesity, depression, academic failure, substance abuse issues, drowsy driving or sports-related injuries. Then she asked if there will be post-implementation data recorded on the same issues.

She listed some problems allegedly caused by the start time change, including long bus ride times for elementary school children.

"Acknowledge these issues and please just show us you're listening," she said. "Yes, to use your words, change is hard. Show us you can change, and you can evolve.

"How will you measure the success of our school start time change? We all deserve an answer."

Listening session

Recent Barrington High School graduate Sam Read told committee members they should consider holding a workshop or listening session with local students. 

"I beg you to hear what students have to say, because aren't they what this is all about?" he said.

Mr. Read said he had spoken with a current BHS student recently — that student, he said, is taking AP Biology but has had to miss instructional time because he or she had to be dismissed early to attend an athletic contest.

Mr. Read said he could not understand how the start time change would reduce student stress.

"If it was to improve student health, how is this helping?" he asked.

"It is not easy for students to tell you how they feel unless you go to them. I implore this committee to hold a workshop, a listening session, whatever you'd like to call it and truly listen to students," he said.

Missing data, earlier start for elementary schools

Former school committee member Gina Pine spoke during the public comment period, stating she had requested various information from school officials but was yet to receive it.

"I have asked the school administration — I said I need a number of how many injuries… nothing has been provided," she said. "I was asked how many early dismissals there have been, and have not been given a number. I have asked how many tardies at the elementary schools, middle and high school and was not given a number. Why is this not being provided to the community? We have a right to know."

Ms. Pine questioned the effectiveness of the later start times. She said high school age students are still getting up early — she sees them at local coffee shops, jogging or working out at local fitness centers, all before they head to class. 

"So this has not changed" things, she said. "They're not getting more sleep. They're still getting up at the same time. 

"What has happened is that the elementary school students are getting up earlier."

Casey Henchman attested to that last point. Ms. Henchman said she has three children in elementary school and did not realize the negative impact the start time changes would have on her family.

"Because of this change, I sound more like a drill sergeant in the morning than a mom. I have to wake up my kids each morning much earlier than last year," she said. 

"Our earlier bus time is now 7:13. As time has gone on since the beginning of school, it's getting darker by the day. November fifth, the sun rises after my kids get picked up by the bus. That's not safe for a 5-year-old."

Ms. Henchman said the school committee should pay close attention to the experiences of local families. She said that testimony should out-weigh "cherry-picked data."

Anne Merlino questioned the future analysis of the start time change, since officials did not administer a sleep survey to students before the shift.

"To me it was very shabbily done," she said. "You're cherry-picking data."

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