ST. MATTHEWS – More than 100 parents, teachers and others gathered Thursday to voice their concerns about a proposed change in Calhoun County public school hours.
The school district is considering starting the school day later, but some parents say that will be disruptive.
For instance, parent Nate Hughes said a later start means bus routes will start later, too.
“Some parents will not be able to be there to ensure that their kids get on the bus in the morning as they do now. Who’s going to take the legal responsibility for the truancy issues that might appear with this issue?” Hughes asked.
“You’re putting more safety at harm, not helping,” he said.
Calhoun County public school officials hosted a town hall meeting on Thursday to discuss the proposed change in start times for the three county schools.
Under the proposal, St. Matthews K-8 School, Sandy Run K-8 School and Calhoun County High School would start at 9 a.m.
The K-8 schools would dismiss at 3:30 p.m. and the high school would dismiss at 3:45 p.m.
Calhoun County schools currently start at 8 a.m. The K-8 schools end the day at 3 p.m. and the high school ends at 3:15 p.m.
The district is also considering starting the school year on Aug. 5 instead of the current third Monday in August. The proposal would have school end on June 4, with graduation taking place the next day for the 2019-2020 school year.
District Chief of Accountability Cynthia Johnson said the idea for the changes stemmed from discussions with Superintendent Dr. Steve Wilson
“When we started looking at the calendar and what we needed to do to increase student achievement, we had three primary goals in mind: one, student safety; two, student achievement and three, teacher retention and recruitment,” Johnson said.
Deputy Superintendent Ferlondo Tullock said, “Dr. Wilson challenged the cabinet to come up with some innovative ways to help our young people perform in the classroom at optimal levels.”
“The calendar, as well as the start times, we hope will retain as well as recruit teachers who are willing to be innovative. Less time away from instruction during the summer months for our students will help increase student and teacher attendance, less time that you parents will have to provide childcare in the summer,” Tullock said.
Tullock said the move could also be safer since, “We won’t have our young people standing out at bus stops in dark hours.”
District officials have been in communication with the S.C. Department of Education regarding the proposals, Tullock said.
“They’re very, very excited about the innovation that we’ve come up with in terms of addressing our young people’s academic performance,” Tullock said.
Parents and others in attendance were given the opportunity to voice their concerns regarding the proposed changes.
Parent Shelby Tapia said, “I think you guys need to take all of this into consideration. Breakfast, I have a big issue with breakfast. My daughter, she’ll go all day without eating, not because she is a picky eater, but because the food actually looks like slop.”
“My other concern was buses. My daughter, she’ll take a picture of her sitting on another kid’s lap. Why? Because the bus has double routes. They are not safe on that bus. They’re constantly pushing and fighting on the bus,” Tapia said.
“It’s so crammed and they are not safe on that bus,” Tapia said.
Another parent said, “You want good retention, you want good recruitment? You better start paying, real quick.”
The changes would also change the length of the school day.
The school day would be shortened by 30 minutes, with students only being in school for 7.5 hours.
Parents expressed concerns about the shorter school day, stating physical activity time is needed during recess.
One parent also expressed concerns the change may affect the dosage of her child’s medication.
She stated that the later start time, accompanied with the fact that she has to drop her child off to school early, would mean that his medicine could wear off and lead to a higher dosage, and she does not like the idea of that.
Some parents said the time change could also affect students’ homework. Some stated that the homework cuts into their children’s sleep time, and that should be eliminated.
The K8 schools currently open their doors at 7:20 a.m., something that won’t change with the proposals. Some parents stated that they have an issue with the possibility that their children could be sitting idle for almost two hours before schools start.
“What programs do you all have that are going to come into all the schools and watch our kids in the morning, not even watch them, occupy their minds for two hours before class starts?” one parent asked.
Along with those who opposed the possible changes, there were also some people who were willing to work with the changes.
Linda Archie-Simmons, a retired teacher who is working as a special education teacher at Sandy Run K-8, said she will continue to do her job regardless of the changes.
“Whether the kids come at 7 a.m., whether they come at 8 a.m., whether they come at 9 a.m., I am going to be there for my students, and I am going to serve them,” she said.
After the town hall, Tullock said the district will begin an online survey on Dec. 10.
“We’re going to collect all of that data and we’re going to sit down and look and see they don’t like it because, they like it because, and hopefully make the changes and try to be able to fit the majority because we couldn’t fit everybody’s needs into a calendar,” Tullock said.
After the results of the survey are collected and analyzed, they will be presented to the Calhoun County School Board. The school board, which meets Dec. 17, will review the results and may or may not take official action.