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Chambersburg parents weigh in on school starting times

January 15, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Parents Wednesday night raised a number of questions about a proposal to change the start and stop times for schools next year in the Chambersburg Area School District, but when asked if they thought it was both doable and a good idea, almost every hand went up.

By Feb. 9, the administration will tell the school board whether it can change the schedule for 2008-09 or should wait another year. On Wednesday, administration officials met with more than two dozen members of the district's Parent Advisory Council.

"Our elementary day is sandwiched between our secondary day," said Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Services Eric Michael, something few other districts do. The secondary schools start first, followed by elementary schools, but in the afternoon, elementary schools dismiss first, followed by secondary schools.

"It's caused a number of problems over the years," Michael said. In a district of 250 square miles in which buses travel 10,000 miles a day, the pattern leaves some secondary students at school 45 minutes before the first bell in order to accommodate the elementary bus schedule, he said.

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The district also meets the bare minimum of instructional hours for elementary students at 900 hours in 180 days, Michael said.

Currently, elementary schools start at about 8:30 a.m. and dismiss at 2:45 p.m. The secondary school start and dismissal times are about 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. The proposal is for secondary schools to run from approximately 8 a.m. to 2:45 a.m. and for elementary schools to run from 9 a.m. to 3:45 a.m.

"It got pretty ugly," Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Services Catherine Dusman said of the debate between administrators, who were about evenly split. "There's never a good time, but we have to do it," she said of the change.

The elementary day will lengthen by about half an hour, Dusman said.

The shift in time, one parent said, could shake up work and day-care schedules for parents who have to be to work before 9 a.m.

Dusman said there will likely be more latch-key programs such as the one run by the Chambersburg YMCA at Hamilton Heights, where parents can drop off children as early as 6 a.m. and pickup them up as late as 6 p.m.

In response to one parent's question, Michael said research has shown that teenagers learn better with a later start to their day. However, Dusman said the idea of a later secondary start was dropped because of concerns about elementary students having to be at bus stops before dawn.

Teenagers will adjust their sleep schedules regardless of the time school starts, parent Shelby Cross said.

"Why can't they all go to school at the same time ... They did it in 'Leave It to Beaverland,'" parent Amy Heckman said, half-jokingly.

Dusman said the district does not have enough buses to have all the bused students rding at the same time.

"It's all about the education of the kids. It's not about our work schedule," said Alan Kohler, president of the council.

Parents and other interested parties can post their concerns and comments about the plan on the district Web site, www.chambersburg.k12.pa.us, beginning today, Dusman said.

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