Dozens of parents filled the Indianapolis Public Schools board room Tuesday afternoon for a last-minute meeting about changing school start times, a sign of how disruptive many believe the changes could be.
Next year, the district is rolling out a new all-choice high school model, where students choose schools by focus area rather than neighborhood. In order to bus students from around the district to those schools without swelling costs, the administration is shifting start and end times for elementary, middle, and high school campuses.
Ultimately, the district says the new schedule will make it more likely that buses will arrive on time.
“With the all choice high school model, there has to be some modification,” Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said ahead of the meeting.
The administration’s recommendation, which was developed after feedback from parents, aims to limit the number of schools with significant changes in start and end times. For about 80 percent of schools, bell times will not change by more than 10 minutes, according to the administration. Under the latest proposal, most middle and high schools will run from 7:20 a.m. to 2:10 p.m. Most elementary schools will run from 9:20 a.m. to 3:55 p.m. The board will vote Thursday on new school start and end times.
The process for developing the plan inspired significant criticism from parents at the transportation meeting.
Dustin Jones, who has two children at the Butler Lab School, said he was particularly concerned that the district was still deciding on the new schedule in April after many parents already made school choices for next year.
“The appearance is the all choice model was ideologically kind of the direction to go, and then that the transportation to support that decision is lagging behind,” Jones said. “That shows a lack of ability and foresight.”
For months, the district has been holding meetings and asking parents for input on the schedule for next year. The administration, however, has struggled to develop a plan that would balance myriad challenges, such as containing costs, limiting disruptions for families, and handling a shortage of bus drivers that is posing significant challenges.
“There’s been an ongoing discussion of the transportation dilemma and challenge,” said board member Mary Ann Sullivan at the board meeting after the discussion. “I think this reflects a very good resolution to most of the concerns. It does not address every concern of every family or every commissioner.”
Initially, leaders were also considering flipping school start times so high schoolers could start at a later time because research shows adolescents benefit from sleeping later. But in the face of practical concerns, such as high school student work schedules, the board abandoned that goal.
That was a disappointment for Molly McPheron, a pediatrician and parent in the district.
“The evidence is really clear that when high schools start later, children have improved health outcomes as well as improved graduation rates, better grades,” McPheron said. “We are going through a lot to make sure high schoolers have choice, have all these options. And then there’s kind of this simple thing that we could do that could potentially substantially improve their lives.”