It appeared that Liberty County middle schools would start later this coming school year when the Board of Education narrowly approved a schedule change earlier this month.
But the schedule will remain the same for at least 2016-17, Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee said Thursday.
The motion for the change, which would have shifted the middle school day 40 minutes later than it has been, was approved 3-2 during the board’s June 14 meeting. Members Verdell Jones, Marcia Anderson and Lily Baker voted for the change, while Marcus Scott IV and Carol Guyett voted no.
However, a survey the district took of parents showed that 57.2 percent favored keeping the schedule as it is, with the day starting at 8:20 a.m. and ending at 3:10 p.m. The revised schedule would have been 9 a.m. to 3:50 p.m.
"Based on survey results, less than 50 percent of the parents are in favor of the initiative," Lee said in an email Thursday to the Coastal Courier. "Therefore, we will not be moving forward with it."
Lee added that district leadership still believes the idea is "worthy of consideration," but "timing is everything, and we do not want the change to cause a hardship for LCSS families. We will continue to research other options at our disposal."
John Lyles, the system’s transportation director, told the board June 14 that the schedule change would have allowed the district to go to a three-tiered bus-route system. That would have allowed elementary, middle and high schools to be bused at separate times. As it stands now, middle and high school students are taken on the same buses.
In the current schedule, middle school students wait about 40 minutes after the final bell at 3:10 p.m. for the buses to arrive, Lyles said. The schedule change would have reduced the wait time at the end of the day, he added.
"It’s hard for administrators to manage those students waiting for their buses to arrive," he said. "There are concerns about altercations between students, concerns about older kids riding with younger kids. We heard that from some of our parents as well. It causes inconsistent arrival times in the morning and afternoon. That means loss of instructional time and students arriving late to breakfast."
Before the 2015-16 school year ended, middle and high school students on the same bus were separated by grade level and gender.
In an email to the Courier, Lyles said drivers have the authority to determine how to best seat students on buses.
When asked what prompted the change, he wrote, "LCSS is ensuring consistency in that all team members are aware of this commonly used behavior management strategy. Student safety is the overall goal at the Liberty County School System. A less distracted driver is more focused on ensuring safe and efficient student transportation."
However, a Georgia Open Records Act request filed by the Courier turned up information that an incident on a bus prompted the changes.
In an email to board members, Lee wrote, "In light of the recent charges brought against the student for illegal activity on our school bus, please be advised that students will be separated on school buses." The email goes on to say how the students will be separated.