Opinion: ICCSD schedule changes will require adjustments

Iowa City schools will face new start times next year. -- photo by Adam Burke
Iowa City schools will face new start times next year. — photo by Adam Burke

On Tuesday night, the Iowa City School Board made a final decision about the new bell schedule for the next school year. Elementary schools will now run from 7:55 a.m.-2:55 p.m., and the junior high and high schools will run from 8:50 a.m.-4 p.m. From what I’ve read on social media, pretty much no one is happy about the new start and end times. I can’t say I’m thrilled either, but I am fortunate enough to have resources to roll with the changes.

I have three daughters, who will be in three different schools next year. Rachel will be a sophomore at West High, Sammi will be in seventh grade at North Central Junior High and Piper will be in fourth grade at Wickham Elementary.

I understand the reason the school board chose the new school start and end times. First, there’s the matter of money. The district doesn’t have enough money to fund all the buses we would need to get all of the kids to school at the same time, so instead the district has to have buses that drop one group of kids off, then turn around and picks up the next group. In 2015-16, the junior and high school kids were picked up first, and then the elementary school kids. In 2016-17 that will flip-flop. I prefer the “having the older kids go later” method, because research shows that teenagers’ circadian rhythms dictate that they’re not really awake until later in the morning than elementary school kids are, and they learn better later in the day. But whether it is the older or the younger student in school until 4 p.m., it makes for an awfully long day.

When I read about the school board’s bell schedule decision on Facebook, my first thought was, “What about all those people who counted on older children to take care of younger children after school?” and then a minute later realized that, oh — that’s us. Piper will be nine years old next year and, with this new schedule, she’ll be getting home on her own devices and then will be home by herself for about an hour. I’m more on the free range side of the parenting scale than the helicopter side, but even I am given pause by this thought. I am 95 percent certain that Piper will get herself home just fine and then read a book, watch TV or do her homework, and five percent afraid she’ll decide to do something like microwave a Pop-Tart while it is still in the shiny foil wrapper. My mom’s advice was to tell Piper to walk home “very sloooooowly.” Wickham does have an after school program, but I’m pretty sure we would have had to put our name on a wait list in 2010 to get into it.

My high schooler is not happy with this decision. Rachel is on a competition dance team and has dance practice several nights a week. She worries that a later start and end time for school will mean later start and end times for practice. This may be the case, but it could be that practice will still begin at the same time, as the dance studio accommodates students from both the Iowa City school district and Clear Creek Amana. Dance practice starts at roughly 5 p.m. most days. The new late bell time for high school will make for an after school rush of hopping off the bus, quickly changing into leotard and tights and flying out the door to get to class. She’s always been pretty good at time management and getting her homework done before dance, but with this new bell schedule she loses break that comes after school and before dance class. I suppose she will do homework either after dance class, which won’t be ideal for mental alertness, or over breakfast, which feels very last minute.

Sammi, my future seventh grader, is very much an early bird. She didn’t like the late start and late out times this year, her last in elementary, and would prefer an early start next year in junior high. Due to the new bell schedule, the bus to junior high and high school won’t be arrive until after 8 a.m., and she and her older sister won’t necessarily be awake when my husband and I leave the house. The seventh grader might have to be in charge of making sure her older sister is awake. This will not work out well for either one of them.

I plan to hire a sitter, as we have in the past, to take the kids to their after school activities. We have had some luck with hiring sitters from the University of Iowa through their website, Hire-a-Hawk. It’s free to post an ad, and we’ve had some great sitters. Unfortunately, they keep doing silly things like “graduating from college and moving away.” This will help with some of my Piper after school Pop-Tart microwaving worries, but we don’t tend to have a babysitter every day, because the kids don’t always have activities.

The new schedule will take some adjustment on all of our parts. I hope it works for the school district and the students next year.

If not, I guess they could always change the schedule again.

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