Back in August, Bluffton’s Chris Donelson was willing to give Beaufort County’s new school start times a chance to play out.
Five months later, he’s reached his conclusion. And the single father of a Red Cedar Elementary second-grader has started a petition drive to urge the school board to revert to the schedule that was in place before the change.
“Looking back thus far, (it) has been a ‘no go!’” Donelson says in introducing his petition on Change.org. “I also have heard from MANY parents who also feel their child’s pain, as well as an inconvenience to their household’s lifestyle.”
Since Donelson crafted his petition last Friday, it has drawn more than 160 signatures. In a district with more than 21,000 students, though, it figures to take plenty more to get better than cursory attention from the Beaufort County school board.
“We’re just a couple days into this,” Donelson said Tuesday night, after bringing his plea before the panel during the public comments period. “So now I’m kind of making it my mission to get out there and see this thing come through.”
Red Cedar and the district’s other elementary schools now begin at 7:45 a.m., an hour earlier than before, with first bell at middle and high schools approximately an hour later.
The change was ordered after the board considered research that shows adolescents perform better academically with more sleep. A pilot program at the Hilton Head Island cluster last year also reported fewer late students, fewer disciplinary referrals — and more honor roll students — in the upper grades.
The only way to make the new scheduling work, though, was to move the elementary start times earlier in the day. From Donelson’s perspective, that part has backfired.
“They’re falling asleep in their Cocoa Puffs before they get going,” Donelson said, noting tension-filled mornings as parents rush to drop off their youngsters in time.
“I’ve seen the frustration (in) these kids; I see the angry parents. When my ex-wife agrees with me about something, that’s pretty awesome. She got on Change.org last night and wrote a really neat thing.”
Other parents have written of their children’s exhaustion and the burden of needing to put students into aftercare when school lets out at 2:45 p.m. At least one mentioned her child now hates school because of the time change.
As for the school board, panelists heard Donelson’s appeal without response.
“When a young child who is so full of natural energy and curiosity is drained at the end of each day beyond the point of being ‘hangry’ (hungry, tired and angry all at the same time), it’s frustrating for all,” Donelson’s petition says.