The Chesterfield County School Board unanimously approved Tuesday night changes to school operating times, beginning with the 2018-19 school year.
The new schedule will be:
“This is not a perfect proposal; neither is the current schedule. But it is a move in the right direction,” School Board Chair Dr. Javaid Siddiqi said. “Our target all along has been to move high school starting times. This is based on research that shows a scientifically proven sleep pattern that does not align with our current schedules.”
“It is an imperfect compromise,” School Board Vice Chair John Erbach added. “When we went out to the public, we heard many people saying they want us to reduce costs. I want to commend our Superintendent and his team for reducing the costs tremendously.”
The new schedule aligns high school starting times with research-based recommendations that say high schools should start at 8:30 a.m. or later due to pubertal-related changes to teens’ circadian rhythms. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Centers for Disease Control each suggest high school starting times should be later than the current 7:25 a.m. schedule in Chesterfield County.
The new schedule also aligns nearly all middle school schedules – four currently are on the first tier and seven others are on the second tier – while keeping a majority of elementary schools (27 out of 38) in the last school tier. The latter was a request often made by parents who were concerned about elementary school children arriving home earlier than older siblings who could watch them after school. Many elementary school starting times will change by just 15 minutes.
While the approved schedule still has some adolescents starting earlier than the most optimal time, the recommendation was considered the least disruptive option presented among all potential changes. Switching the middle and high school schedules also addressed research related to a higher rate of car accidents for high school-age students in Chesterfield County.
Board members indicated a desire for school division staff members to continue to tweak operating times when possible, based on future test runs of bus routes. Board members also expressed an interest in looking at moving to a two-tier system in future years.
The proposed Fiscal Year 2018 operating budget includes $500,000 to address bus driver salaries, as the school division ramps up recruitment efforts. The final annual implementation cost is projected to be $1.9 million, a total that will cover expenses related to 30 new bus drivers, fuel and bus maintenance.