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School leaders again delay vote on later start proposals for Northampton High School

The latest holdup involves concerns raised by elementary school parents about linking a later start at the high school to calls for extending the elementary school day.

The School Committee is considering two later-start proposals, one that would move the NHS start time from 7:30 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. and another that would move it to 8:30 a.m. Both also propose lengthening the elementary school day by 20 minutes.

In an email sent Thursday to the School Committee and Mayor David J. Narkewicz, Deborah Keisch Polin, a member of the Bridge Street School Council, said voting on those proposals would violate the state’s Open Meeting Law because posted agendas and public forums on the issue did not include mention of a change in the elementary school bell.

“Because they were advertised as high school late start forums, I had no idea about the attached extended day issue,” Polin wrote. “I am neither supportive, nor opposed to, an extended day. What I am opposed to is not having a community conversation about that extended day and hearing from as many elementary parents, teachers and staff as possible.”

Polin said she had spoken with the state Attorney General’s office about what she viewed as Open Meeting Law violations and urged the school board to delay voting on the high school start time until the elementary school day could be considered separately.

At Thursday’s School Committee meeting, Narkewicz, in his role as committee chairman, moved for a delay until a meeting on start times could be “properly posted” by including mention of the elementary schools.

“I don’t believe it was the intent of this committee,” to violate open meetings rules, Narkewicz told the crowd of more than 30 residents who came to Thursday’s meeting expecting a vote on the high school start time. “But looking at recent rulings by the Attorney General, they’ve become very strict and I don’t want to take a chance,” he said.

Committee members agreed to schedule a special meeting before their Dec. 13 meeting with start time proposals as the sole agenda item.

The latest delay frustrated some proponents of a later start time. “I desperately wish the issues weren’t connected,” said NHS parent Cathi Hanauer, referring to the elementary school schedule. “But now that they are, they apparently have to be vetted and explored that way.”

Still, Steve Herrell, another later-start advocate, said he didn’t mind waiting another month for a decision on the high school bell. “I think the proposals are evolving as we go along,” Herrell said. “I think we are making progress.”

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