Northampton School Committee approves late start for high school

Staff Writer
Published: 12/11/2020 6:21:41 PM

NORTHAMPTON — After more than a decade of the topic being in the public eye, the School Committee voted Thursday night to push back the time the school day starts for high school students.

“Every School Committee who’s faced this issue has agreed fundamentally that the science supports it,” said Mayor David Narkewicz, who serves on the School Committee and voted for the change.

Under the new plan, high school students would be the last cohort to begin the school day. The only firm start time that was voted on was for elementary school students to not start earlier than 8 a.m. Middle school students would begin school next followed by high school students.

School Committee member Rebecca Busansky, who voted yes, said that the start times will roughly be 8:30 a.m. for middle school students and 9 a.m. for high school students. She said the times haven’t been finalized because of the differences in the length of school days between the cohorts: 6 hours, 10 minutes for elementary students; 6 hours, 35 minutes for middle school students; and 6 hours, 30 minutes for high school students.

Currently, high school students start at 7:30 a.m., followed by middle school students at 7:55 a.m. and elementary school students at 8:50 a.m.

“We were looking to reframe it altogether,” said Busansky, on why all the times were pushed forward.

The 8 a.m. time was advanced so elementary school students would not be walking to the bus in the dark, Busansky said.

The vote was seven for the change and two against, with one abstention. It is set to take effect at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.

“You want to make the decision early enough so that people can plan,” said Narkewicz.

Busansky said that firm start times for each cohort will be announced shortly.

At Thursday’s meeting Steve Herrell, founder of Herrell’s Ice Cream and a longtime advocate for pushing the start time back, spoke in favor of the change. So did Renee Wetstein, another longtime advocate for later start times.

“Steve and I worked on this for so long that I found old speeches that I gave to the School Committee in like, 2010, 2011,” Wetstein said during the committee meeting.

Narkewicz said that an impediment to implementing later start times for high school students has been the city’s busing schedule, as previous proposals had cost too much money.

The adopted proposal, which preserves the district’s three-tiered busing system, is “effectively cost neutral,” the mayor said. Narkewicz added that it does this by effectively switching the positions of the elementary and high school students for busing.

Herrell expressed his happiness at the committee’s decision.

“Teenagers are wired to sleep late,” he said Friday. “They need to sleep later in the morning than most other human beings.”

Herrell said that getting the high school start time pushed back was the result of years of campaigning and hard work, and he’s glad that the School Committee didn’t fall victim to “analysis paralysis” at its meeting and passed the change.

Cathi Hanauer, another supporter of later start times, also expressed happiness at the committee’s vote.

“I’m thrilled that that happened,” she said. “It’s long overdue and very welcome.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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