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Aimee Hilgers, Moorhead, Published May 26 2012

What’s best start time for school?

I feel it’s important to raise awareness about an issue that could affect Moorhead. Fifteen minutes will be added to the school day next year, an exciting improvement. However, the district is interested in another change.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, the district will decide upon new start and dismissal times. The district has devised many scenarios and presented nine options. At the May 14 school board meeting, the district said scenario 9 is the most likely option: 9:05-3:50 (Horizon), 7:55-2:40 (elementary schools), and 8:25-3:30 (high school). This option would save $325,000 in transportation costs due to fewer bus routes. While significant to most of us, it is just 0.6 percent of their annual $54 million budget.

The desire to provide middle school students with extra sleep in the morning is commendable. However, at a recent Horizon Parent Teacher Advisory Council meeting, parents and teachers addressed concerns about a late schedule with district administrators. Many parents expressed fears about their children’s safety, being home alone after their parents go to work. Many can’t afford morning day care, and children would have to get safely to the bus stop themselves. Others cited truancy and tardiness issues since many students won’t make it to the bus stop on time, and parents can’t leave work to drive their children to school. After school ends at 3:50, buses wouldn’t get to Horizon until 4:05, leaving a 15-minute do-nothing time.

The administration said the supervised middle school cafetorium would be available before school, but many felt this was not a beneficial use of time, could be an atmosphere conducive to bullying, and would cancel that extra sleep time.

As discussed at the meeting, many sports practices and extracurricular and educational activities would occur before school. Again, students would not get that extra sleep.

Parents also stated that students would drop out of sports and activities because many parents can’t take them to school for morning practice, which the district noted would be the parents’ responsibility.

One of the most important points mentioned deals with the best times for student learning. Teachers stated that the current schedule works well for learning and expressed concerns about a very late ending time. Comparable regional middle schools’ start and finish times show that a 9:05 a.m. start time would make Horizon the latest of all.

The district provided one scenario that would simply add the already-negotiated 15 minutes to the day’s end. People at the meeting suggested this option and asked that the district thoroughly explore other ways with parent-teacher committees to reduce transportation costs and discuss other schedules next year.

The additional 15 minutes is about advancing learning and doesn’t need to be linked with transportation. We have an incredible opportunity here to put quality education first.

We have a common interest – creating the best educational environment for our students. I urge those who feel a late schedule would not be helpful for their children to write a letter to the editor, call or email school board members and administration through the district website, or attend the board meeting on Tuesday. I believe that the school board and administration want to work with parents and teachers to explore what is best for students’ education, for families and for our community.

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