COLUMBUS, Ohio– School districts across the state will be carefully watching a proposed piece of legislation, introduced by State Senator Sandra Williams of Cleveland which would ban all public, charter and stem schools from starting before 8:30 a.m.
Many schools across the state currently begin their day at or before 7:00 a.m. for high school students, then stagger start times for middle schools and elementary schools.
The reasons for that are complex, not the least of which has to do with transporting thousands of school children to and from their buildings in an orderly fashion.
“To be honest with you — our buses for Akron Public School School District Monday through Friday — my teams start walking a little after five and my teams are on duty until 11-11:30 at night,” said Debra Foulk of the Akron Public Schools, which is responsible for transporting students over a vast area to each of its schools as well as parochial and private schools in the district, which would not be subject to the same start time requirement.
The proposed law closely follows a similar law in California where lawmakers cited sleep deprivation as among the motivations for the later start.
But that has little or nothing whatsoever to do with the proposed Senate Bill 218 here in Ohio.
“This is mainly to address student safety because a lot of children when they do go to school, they go to school in the dark; a lot of kids wake up at 5-6 in the morning and it’s pretty pitch black outside,” said Gabrielle Woodberry, a staff member for Senator Williams.
“There has actually been a few incidents, more recently one in Columbus, where a little 11-year-old girl was walking to the bus stop; it was pitch black outside, and she actually got struck by two cars,” said Woodberry.
But districts, including Akron Public Schools, say there are so many details that go into scheduling a school day beyond transportation that the proposed law threatens to conflict with other existing requirements.
“You want them to have access to school meals and school meals have their own regulations as to time and effort when they can be offered and then on top of that let’s talk about the personal home lives of the students who are working with their parents’ home schedule as well, so if you have a school day that starts later that doesn’t mean that mom and dad don’t need to be out the door in ordert o get to work say at 7-7:30,” said Foulk.
Administrators in Akron say that starting the day later also threatens to conflict with extracurricular and after school activities.
“I understand maybe the spirit of this bill is to make sure that students are at bus stops at a time that is appropriate when it’s not dark but shifting it to that kind of time also shifts the end of the school day for the curricular activities where they may be ending in the dark so it’s very complicated to put a school schedule together,” added Fouk.
Some school districts around the state have shifted to later start times, but even there some of the high schools begin the day at 8:00 a.m.
Parents who FOX 8 also approached for reaction say the proposed later start time would create hardships for them getting to work, especially if they have children who attend several different schools.
“I disagree; I mean, there’s a lot of parents out there that they try to get to work and they have a schedule so I think it would make it difficult,” said Tim Dealexandro, whose son starts his day at 7:15 a.m. at the STEM high school in Akron.
Senate Bill 218 was just introduced this week and has not yet been assigned to a committee for discussion, so the proposed law has a long way to go before it passes the state legislature for the governor’s signature.