Guest columnists Laura Fallon and Roni Gold: Why we voted against late start proposal

  • People walk on the track at Northampton High School last March. Gazette file photo

Published: 1/12/2021 11:19:40 AM

Last month the Northampton School Committee passed a motion by a margin of 7-2 (with one abstention) to accept a proposal to change the start times of the Northampton Public Schools.

As members of the committee who did not vote in favor of the proposal despite our belief in the science which clearly states the benefits of later school start times for high school students, we felt it was incumbent upon us to explain the rationale behind our vote.

Our community has spent more than a decade discussing the issue of whether, how, and when to implement a later high school start time. The current School Committee decided last spring that this issue was a priority and assigned the Budget and Property Subcommittee the task of bringing cost-neutral proposals to the full committee by October for a discussion and possible vote.

Working primarily with Transportation Supervisor Tammy Lieber; Business Administrator Camie Lamica; and Superintendent John Provost, the subcommittee presented two proposals to the full committee at the Dec. 10 School Committee meeting. Both proposals had the elementary schools beginning the day at 8 a.m., but in Proposal A, the middle school followed next at 8:30 a.m. with the high school beginning at 9 a.m., while Proposal B had the middle and high school reversing times.

The proposals were essentially cost-neutral from a bussing standpoint. Both proposals reduced the elementary school day by 10 minutes. At the time of the vote, it was unclear how this lost time on learning would be reincorporated into the schedule and therefore no firm start or end times to the day were included in the motion that was voted upon with the exception of specifying that elementary students would not begin their day earlier than 8 a.m.

As school committee members, we are bound by a code of ethics that requires us to make decisions only after all facts on a question have been presented and discussed. On the evening of the vote, the School Committee was made aware that largely due to the ongoing COVID crisis, no feedback on the proposals under consideration had been sought or received from the Student Union, the administrative leadership team (ALT), the union (NASE), or Smith College.

We were also informed by the superintendent that a decision regarding the start time proposals could be made as late as March and still allow for adequate time for implementation. For these reasons, we requested that the committee wait until we had more information and time to consult relevant stakeholders before voting on either proposal.

For the record, here is some of the information that was unavailable to committee members at the time of the vote:

■The actual start and end times at both the middle and high schools.

■ Which proposal aligned best with Smith College class offerings that are available to high school juniors and seniors.

■Whether NHS currently has both the physical space and/or staffing available to fill in the gaps in students’ schedules if they are unable to take Smith College classes due to the new start time (while the bussing plan was cost-neutral, the proposal won’t be if we need to hire more staff to cover classes as a result of this change)

■How athletic teams will be affected by the high school ending its day at 3:30 (or later). For example, some athletic fields/venues require daylight as they are unlit

■Which plan do our administrators favor and why?

■Is the YMCA willing and able to provide child care for the elementary-aged students beginning at 2 p.m. and at what cost?

These are just a few of the questions that were unanswered at the time of the committee’s vote on Dec. 10 and why we felt we could not vote in favor of either proposal at that time.

We remain steadfast in our belief that the individuals most directly affected by our decisions and those who will be responsible for implementing school committee directives should be provided the opportunity to offer feedback prior to votes taking place and that we arrive at our best decisions only after all necessary facts and details are considered.

Laura Fallon represents Ward 2 on the Northampton School Committee. Roni Gold is an at-large member.

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