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Editorial: Board stumbles on high school start time in Northampton

If members of the Northampton School Committee no longer see value in starting classes later at the high school, they should figure that out and say so. Despite having voted to make this change come September, the board last week backed off that time frame. Now, it’s anyone’s guess when — and if — Northampton puts a good idea into practice.

The board could have notched the implementation of a later start as one of its successes this year. Instead, we see this delay as a stumble that sends mixed messages throughout the school district.

The wisdom of starting high school classes later is well established; because of their sleep habits, adolescents are known to get more out of school if it starts even one hour later.

The board last week directed the new superintendent to collect data on the use and cost of bus transportation. Those costs are important to understand, and did not have to be considered when the School Committee voted to go ahead with a later start time. That’s because a tight budget for the current year had eliminated busing to the school — until city voters approved a Proposition 2½ override that restored the service.

Interestingly, the School Committee voted last week to approve its budget for the coming year before getting to the matter of the later start. That meant that when it took up the start-time issue, members of the panel could claim poverty, shrugging and turning their pockets inside out.

Members can hardly claim that the date of a significant policy change they themselves set snuck up on them. After bus services were restored last summer, the board should have figured out how to cover higher transportation costs related to changing school hours. Or its members should have openly re-evaluated the wisdom of delaying the opening bell at the high school.

Instead, they played possum, allowing advocates of the change — including members of two previous task forces — to think the change was coming.

Circumstances didn’t compel this committee to back off its own decision. Indecision did. The board knew it was obligated to shift the hours starting this September. If it needed new cost figures, it should have produced them already.

Come February, when a new report on transportation costs is due, seven years will have passed since the question arose of adjusting the school day at Northampton High School.

This time next year, if the Northampton School Committee still doesn’t know where it stands on this matter, lackluster leadership risks becoming farce.

Legacy Comments1

Steve Herrell owns a very successful business in Northampton. Cathi Hanauer is a writer who works at home. Both have been very vocal proponents of a later start time. Neither are bound by the clock to begin or end work. They are not representative of most parents of Northampton High School students, or of most city taxpayers. They, and other proponents, are privileged. But not entitled.

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