The Liberty County Board of Education is seeking community feedback on whether to change its school times for the coming school year.
High school principals Scott Carrier and Paula Scott on Tuesday asked the board to consider allowing middle and high schools to begin at 7:30 a.m. and dismiss at 2:15 p.m. instead of the current arrangement, where elementary students report before their older counterparts.
Presently, elementary and pre-K are in school 7:40 a.m.-2:15 p.m., while older grades are in school from 8:20 a.m.-3:10 p.m.
The board heard the proposal, and follow discussion it asked the principals to seek feedback from other staff members, parents and students before it makes a decision.
The district currently has an online survey available through SurveyMonkey.com to gauge public support, and will try to hold community forums as well.
Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer explained that administrators wanted to gauge the board's feeling on the change before taking it to the community at-large.
“Well I will tell you, the community has been buzzing with this for the last month; this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this,” Board Chairwoman Lily Baker said, adding that most people thought the concept of changing school times was related to the six furlough days scheduled for next year.
“(The topic) started as a conversation between middle and high schools as to our concern of the number of instructional hours our students were losing in the afternoon due to having to leave for sporting events …,” Carrier said. “The idea came out that what if we were able to start earlier and able to end earlier?”
At Bradwell Institute, Carrier said more than 1,000 students each month must check out in order to travel elsewhere for games and regional club competitions.
Lower grades teachers and the transportation department also came into the discussion and found the plan to be “what is best overall for the students of Liberty County,” Carrier said. The switch adds an extra 10 minutes between the start times, which would help ease some transportation issues that cause bus delays.
Liberty County High School Principal Paula Scott added that one elementary school principal was opposed, but all others saw the move as beneficial.
Waldo Pafford Elementary Principal Sonia Bacon and Midway Middle Principal Debra Frazier also were present.
Board member Carolyn Smith Carter said she supported the move, which would be a return to the traditional order.
Member Marcia Anderson brought up that when they changed the order, research indicated that “older children do not learn as well early in the morning.”
“I think that high school kids are going to be very resistant to this, and I’m not sure they’re going to function,” Anderson said.
Establishing an expectation of attendance for students whether they begin at 7:30 a.m. or an hour later helps develop the “soft skills” necessary to success professionally, Carrier added.
Anderson also said that while the school system “is not in the business to provide daycare,” she has concerns that changing the school times could force parents to seek childcare both in the morning and afternoon, which could lead to increased costs for families.
In response, Carrier said that many high school students work to contribute to their family income, and giving them another hour after school creates more opportunity to earn.
Board member Harold Woods said he too often sees young children standing outside awaiting buses in the dark, an issue that could be prevented if the times are changed.