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BOE Investigates Busing Issues in Guilford School Start Time Debate

Published Jan. 20, 2016

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As a result of numerous studies indicating high school students are in need of more sleep, the Board of Education (BOE) is investigating the possibility of a delayed high school start time. While a later start might give teenagers some more shut-eye, it could also have a significant impact on the bus system in Guilford.

At its regular meeting on Jan. 11, the board invited a representative from the District Management Council, a Boston-based firm, to present two possible scenarios for busing students to school under a new schedule.

District Management Council Senior Director Dr. Dian Ullman presented the options, which her firm compiled after conducting a ridership survey and numerous interviews with individuals in the district.

“You already have a good transportation system, so what we are looking at is starting with a base of very good practices,” said Ullman. “I think you are very wise to take this at a thoughtful and measured pace, because there are significant changes required regardless of any particular scenario and there are just so many factors to consider.”

Scenario 1 maintains the current three-tiered system, but would flip the middle and high school start times, with Baldwin and Adams starting at 7:30 a.m. and the high school starting at 8:20 a.m. The elementary schools would begin at 9:30 a.m. and end their day at 3:55 p.m. In this scenario, the middle schools would end at 2:10 p.m. and the high school would end at 3 p.m. The district also has the opportunity to save money with this option my maximizing the number of students per bus.

The tradeoff for this option, according to the presentation, is the possible use of cluster stops, meaning students will have to walk ½ mile to ¾ of a mile to reach their bus stop.

Chair of the Board of Education Bill Bloss spoke up on the cluster stops, stating the walking distance was not ideal.

“That is past the outer limits of where we want to be,” he said.

Scenario 2 would move too a two-tier approach, with the high school and Adams starting the day at 8 a.m. and ending at 2:40 p.m. and Baldwin and the elementary schools starting at 9:10 a.m. and ending at 3:35. According to the presentation, this option is likely to be more costly, but will have a smaller impact on start times overall.

“This option is a lot simpler to look at and a lot simpler on surface to implement,” said Ullman. “This does require adding buses and will add to the overall cost.”

Ullman said the board will now need to gather more detailed information before making additional decisions.

“The next level of information that you need is very specific to the decision you will be making, for instance, the walk distance to the bus stop,” she said. “That decision needs to be made before moving forward with more specific work.”

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Freeman said he was compiling a list of questions to help get a better understanding of all the details.

“Tonight is not the final word on this topic, so I know there will be questions we will bring back to the board at a later date,” he said.

Bloss said this is not an issue to rush through.

“This is maybe the most complicated issues we have been involved in lately,” he said. “It seems when you pull one thread, you break free another thread.”

Several parents were in attendance, many of whom supportied pushing back the high school start time, despite the possible challenges.

Marian Breeze, a Guilford resident, said she was in favor of the change. She mentioned the possible traffic benefits and reminded the board of an equally challenging decision they were forced to make years ago.

“Years ago students were asked about open campus and the school was closed down; students were not allowed to leave,” she said. “That was a hugely unpopular decision, not only with the students, but also with many parents. However, it was the right decision; it was a health and safety issue. The BOE made the right decision and I would encourage you to consider this as an equally important health and safety issue.”

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