Survey: 40% of Beaufort Co. parents say start time change is hurting students, families

Bluffton High students react to change in school start times

Several Bluffton High School students explain how they feel after finding out that their school start time will be moved back to 9 a.m. next year instead of the normal 7:45 a.m.
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Several Bluffton High School students explain how they feel after finding out that their school start time will be moved back to 9 a.m. next year instead of the normal 7:45 a.m.

Nearly 40 percent of parents and a third of teachers in the Beaufort County School District believe that the 2016-17 shift in school start times are having a negative impact on students and families, according to the results of a survey presented to the school board Tuesday night by a group of teachers advocating for a return to the old start times.

The district’s Professional Advocacy Council’s presentation showed:

• 32.5 percent of teachers and 39.6 percent of parents surveyed said the change in start times had a negative impact

• 26.9 percent of teachers and 24.5 percent of parents surveyed said the change had a positive impact

• 40.6 percent of teachers and 35.9 percent of parents surveyed said the change had no impact

“High school students work after school, so delaying their ability to get to work earlier in the day just results in them working later,” one survey respondent wrote. “I routinely hear of students working until close to midnight. Couple this with student athletes and it’s a nightmare.”

District spokesman Jim Foster said that with 12,000 students riding buses, serviced by a fleet of 190 vehicles (some of which are activity buses or backups) and around 120 drivers, the district needs a two-tiered start time system.

“Whatever you decide, somebody has to go to school first,” he said.

In 2016, the Board of Education voted 10-1 to switch primary and secondary school start times after a successful pilot program by Hilton Head Island schools.

Middle and high schools would begin at 8:45 a.m., and elementary schools at 7:45 a.m. The decision to switch schedules was driven by research that showed teenagers’ brains are less productive in the mornings, leading to drowsy driving and lackluster performances in first period.

The changed start times have been controversial since their implementation. While many middle and high school parents praised the change for re-engaging their children in school, others complained that student-athletes and students with jobs were missing out on quality time with their families.

Elementary school parents took issue with earlier bus pickups and bedtimes pushed up to 7 or 8 p.m. to make up for early mornings.

Last November, pilot site Hilton Head Island High School decided to move their start time back 15 minutes to 8:30, citing student car accidents.

Karen McKenzie, the district’s 2018-19 Teacher of the Year and the chairwoman of the advocacy council, presented the survey results and the council’s suggestions Tuesday, along with test data that shows a sharp decline in end-of-course assessment scores in the last school year.

“Teachers feel that is directly linked to loss of seat time in EOC classes for athletes and students that have to leave early due to start time changes,” she said.

McKenzie estimated that student-athletes in sports like football and basketball could miss 12 to 15 days per semester for games, while their counterparts in sports like track and field and swimming, which hold more frequent meets, could miss 25 to 30 days.

In the same time frame, graduation rates have increased slightly, but McKenzie stressed that these years also marked the introduction of the 10-point grading scale for students and the elimination of a graduation exam, both of which eased the path for students.

Despite this, the highest increase in graduation rates for the district in the past six years occurred in 2014.

McKenzie and the district’s professional advocacy council proposed further research into the impact of start times on absences and test scores, as well as the possibility of providing free childcare for district employees.

The school board’s operations committee also addressed school start times on Tuesday.

School board member David Striebinger introduced a motion to explore separating start times by school cluster -- for example, Hilton Head Island schools could work on a different schedule than those in Beaufort. The motion passed unanimously.

“Different clusters could decide to start the elementary schools first, other clusters may choose to start the high schools first,” he said. “So that’s a little room that I think we didn’t know we had.”