More than 130 people responded to the Liberty County Board of Education’s requests for public input on a proposed school-time change this week.
And contrary to survey results presented earlier this month to the board, the majority of attendees at Monday and Tuesday forums indicated they favor retaining the current schedule.
In addition to having an opportunity to speak on the matter, meeting attendees were asked to place stickers on boards that indicated whether they are in favor of the proposal or opposed.
According to data from the Liberty County School System, 83 people signed in to Monday’s forum in Hinesville. There were 64 stickers on the “no” board and 19 on the “yes.”
At the Tuesday forum in Midway, 53 attendees signed in. Thirty placed stickers on the “no” board, and six placed them on the “yes.”
The proposal’s origins
Before handing over the microphone, LCSS Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer gave a brief description about the proposal and the pros and cons associated with it.
As the Courier previously reported, high-school principals initiated the conversation. It was first presented during the board’s February work session.
They cited a high number of absences during the fourth block for student-athletes and said there could be other benefits, such as students having more time after school to work, take care of younger siblings or complete their homework.
Scherer also said athletic programs could save money by sending both varsity and junior-varsity teams on the same buses to away games. Under the current schedule, many JV teams leave school earlier than varsity students, which requires more buses to be used.
Several speakers both nights indicated they did not receive the surveys that went out in February or felt the information was presented with a bias.
Others said the move would cater to older students at the detriment of younger ones, and another woman asked for the percentage of athletes compared to non-athletes.
Others spoke against the measure, citing concerns about the move affecting child-care costs and student performance. Some said they have to report to work early and rely on their older children to get younger siblings ready.
Fort Stewart teacher Rose Wood, who has a child at Bradwell Institute, read from prepared notes at both meetings, and she received applause for her dissent.
“For middle- and high-school students whose parents pick them up, you will not have middle- and high-school students waiting around for an hour after school for parents like myself to get off work to pick them up,” Wood said. “Because you have many parents who will not allow their children to ride the bus to or from school.”
The athletes missing fourth block are only missing small portions of their classes, but they still would forfeit another hour of sleep and already get in late, she added.
Another woman Tuesday suggested the opposition is related more to change than to the logistics of the situation.
“I know everyone here is used to the start time, and it’s been this way for years, … however, I guess, what you’re used to, you’re just used to. But it is very difficult for a young child so early in the morning,” one woman added. “There’s pros and cons on both sides.”
Several teachers also voiced dissent.
Gabby Gregory, wife of Fort Stewart Garrison Commander Col. Kevin Gregory, offered her thoughts at both forums.
“I’m really pretty neutral on the whole situation, except for this one point, and it has to do with the buses,” Gregory said. “It is not a one-for-one swap; there are some that are picking up at 6:30 for elementary, and that’s the earliest I can find on the website for elementary. But for the high school and the middle-schoolers, even when they start an hour later, they are picking up at 6:30.
“I have one in particular here, as a comparison, Liberty Elementary route 80. It picks up at 6:30, it arrives at 7:18. On the other hand, Liberty County High School and Midway Middle School, this one picks up at 6:30 as well. It drops off at Midway at 7:50 and at Liberty County at 8:05 — so those kids are on the bus for an hour and a half … that means this particular bus would be picking up at 5:30 in the morning.”
Gregory also encouraged the board to conduct another survey because so many felt the initial one was either biased or did not reach audiences.
On Wednesday, Scherer said she was “looking into the possibility of another survey.”
A lesson in civics
One speaker in Midway said others told her that attending the forum was an exercise in futility because the board either had already made its decision or had an idea in place.
BoE Chairwoman Lily Baker stepped in.
“My board members and myself seem to be getting beat up quite a bit,” Baker said. “This is a proposal that has been brought to the board, and you are here tonight to voice your opinion. We have not made a decision. … we are here tonight to listen to your voices. It is not your board who made this decision or even made the proposal.”
The board likely will act on the matter during its April 9 meeting.
During the Monday forum, one woman asked whether anyone on the board had school-age children that would be affected by the change.
“Understand that you elect people — in this case, the seven members of the board of education — are elected to represent the people of the county,” Scherer said. “You make that vote.”
The board members each spoke about the matter and shared that they will take the comments into account before making decisions. Several indicated they oppose the proposal.