Gilbert schools' start times stay as is - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Gilbert schools' start times stay as is

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Posted: Tuesday, April 14, 2009 10:57 pm | Updated: 1:25 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

After months of discussion and research, several community forums and thousands of returned surveys from parents and employees, the Gilbert Unified School District governing board decided Tuesday night not to change the start times for the upcoming school year.

High school first hour will continue starting at 7:30 a.m. and ending at 2:30 p.m. The "A" hour, an optional early morning class before the regular school day, will continue to start at 6:30 a.m.

Elementary and junior high school times will also stay the same.

Four of the five board members said they wanted to keep the current schedule, and didn't believe this was the year to change school starting and ending times because of the current economic crisis and uncertainty of teacher hirings.

However, board members said they would like the issue to be studied again in the future, saying they thought later start times were still appropriate for high schoolers.

Board member Helen Hollands said she believes Gilbert "should always be a leader" and give that "promise and hope of providing that extra edge."

"It could be an appropriate move in the future, although I don't think this year is the year to do that," she said.

Board president Thad Stump was the lone dissenter, saying he still preferred an 8:30 a.m. high school start time.

"I thought it would be a slam dunk to go with the later start time," Stump said. "No matter what we do, two-thirds of the population will be upset with us."

Although several options were discussed in the past, the board ultimately decided to choose among three proposals: keeping the schedule as-is, or having high school students start at 8 a.m. or 8:30 a.m. for the 2009-10 school year.

The 8 a.m. high school start time would have cost the district hundreds of thousands in dollars in transportation expenses.

Changing the high school times would also affect elementary school and junior high school start times, because of busing schedules.

This was a hot issue that elicited lots of response from the community. The district received more than 200 e-mails from parents and teachers expressing how the different start and end times would affect their families.

Parents were concerned about how it would affect after-school activities, athletic schedules, child care and family time.

Survey results are posted on the district's Web site. The majority of parents and employees surveyed preferred keeping the schedule as-is, followed by the 8:30 a.m. high school start time.

Several parents and teachers spoke at Tuesday's meeting. At least one parent was in favor of changing to a later starting time, while the majority of those who spoke wanted to keep the current schedule.

Jackie Haener-Figueroa, a Highland High School social studies teacher and mother of three district elementary school children, said changing the start times would have been "extremely difficult" for her family because of after-school child care.

"You can't show us the money, so show us the love," she said.

District officials decided to look at possibly changing high school start times again after parent outcry last July. That's when the district added 24 minutes per day of instructional time to comply with state officials' new interpretation of the instructional time law.

Those extra minutes were added in the morning so they wouldn't interfere with bus schedules, and that made high schoolers start earlier.

The move upset some parents because the hours were changed about two weeks before school started, and they complained it was just too early for their teens. Many of the students take the extra early class to make up for Mormon seminary or electives throughout the day.

If the district didn't increase instructional time to meet the law's requirements, it would lose about $1 million from the state because a student who is not considered to be full time does not get full funding.

The change was mainly due to seniors who leave early and do not take at least four hours of classes. That's about 650 students in the district.

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