Early school start proposal widens eyes

Tania Martin, Staff Writer

Junior Sierra Purden peels out of bed around 6:30 every morning to get to school on time. Taking about an hour to get ready, she leaves around 7:30 from her house in order to get to school at 8 a.m. for math tutoring.

“First, I wake up and turn on my music; I can’t function without it,” she said. “I get up and take a shower for 10 minutes, usually falling asleep for half of it. After that, I lie in bed for another five to 10 minutes. As soon as I realize it’s 7:25 a.m., I throw on some running shorts, a T-shirt, grab my keys and I leave.”

When Principal Rick Fleming walks onto school campus at 6:45 every morning, he notices 15 to 20 students sitting at the car loop, waiting for the gates to open. Next year, because of the elimination of corridor busing, he predicts “at least 100” students will be waiting in the same position. As a result, he recently proposed the idea of starting the school day one hour earlier.

“With West Shore being in a ‘sketchy’ area, it concerns me that there are middle-schoolers at school that early, especially when some days they are waiting in the dark,” Fleming said. “I’m trying my best to make sure students are safe while at school.”

Starting school at 7:45 a.m. instead of 8:45 a.m. would push all hours back for Purden, forcing her to wake up at 5:30. With all of Purden’s extracurricular activities going on after school, she seldom gets to bed before 11:30 p.m. The earlier school start would leave her with approximately five hours of sleep.

“We wake up early enough, and especially with West Shore’s workload, kids already walk around schools like zombies because they’re so tired,” Purden said. “It’s not fair or healthy that we would be forced to wake up so much earlier than students at other schools.”

As said in the April 16 PTA meeting, the approval and decision-making for the time change may not give the school enough time to make a decision for next fall, but it may, if approved, apply to the following year. When Fleming said when he brought up the discussion about the proposal, the majority of the parents did not show optimism about the change, but as he explained his reasoning, there was a “180 degree change in emotion.”

“I think it would affect a lot of working parents in both positive and negative ways,” said Joanna Stewart, mother of two students. “I think it is a good  thing because it would give kids more time after school. The working parents might not like the kids getting home sooner. Either way, I would like it.”

But Susan Sherry, the mother of three, argues that after-school programs would be needed in order to give students time to finish their after-school work, before starting sport games and other extracurricular activities.

“There’s such a time difference from other schools since West Shore would be the only school that would be changing its start time,” Sherry said. “Students would have to stay after school until these start, lengthening the time that they have to stay because they get out so much earlier. An after-school study program would help with this issue, but that strikes another concern: Who would pay for that?”

According to Fleming, the 7:45 a.m. school start proposal was brought up for discussion only to seek the approval from the district to survey parents about the new class times.

“There are many concerns that are being raised, because starting school early would mean getting out of school at 2:30, rather than 3:30. This could affect the after-school clubs and sporting events going on.” Fleming said. “We also have concerns about communication of dual-enrollment, so those are things we will try to figure out.”

Fleming expressed empathy toward students waking up earlier than usual, but said their safety is most important.

“Four high schools start school at 8:45 a.m., and since students at West Shore live in all different parts of the county, approximately 400 more cars will be added to the roads,” he said. “This creates a much larger chance for something bad to happen, especially for our teenage drivers on the road. My students’ safety is my No. 1 concern.”