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Parents suggest earlier start times for elementary schools

Committee seeks resident input through Thought Exchange and email

The topic of later school start times was addressed at the Cherry Hill board of education’s town hall on March 29.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kwame Morton reviewed four recommendations that the steering committee, formed in September 2021, made to the board in February. While there is no set time for implementation, the earliest the recommendations could take effect is the 2023-’24 school year.

The first two options propose the same start and end times for all three school levels. High school would begin at 8:15 a.m. and end at 3:15 p.m., middle school would begin at 7:45 a.m. and end at 2:45 p.m., and elementary school would begin at 9:15 a.m. and end at 3:45 p.m.

The difference is that for the first option, lunch and homeroom would remain a 54-minute segment in the middle of the day, whereas the second would make lunch a 30-minute period. At the end of the day, there would be a 24-minute office hour period that students would be expected to use for additional instruction instead of having homeroom with their lunch. Students would not be released until after office hours; athletes would be able to leave before 3 p.m. 

The third option would make 8:39 a.m. the high-school’s start time, with the day ending at 3:15 p.m., an option that retains a 30-minute lunch period but does not offer a homeroom or office-hour period. The fourth option’s hours would be 7:55 a.m. to 2:55 p.m. for high school, 8:25 a.m. to 3:25 p.m. for middle school and 9:25 a.m. to 3:55 p.m. for elementary school.

Beyond what the committee has proposed, state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would require high school to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., and there have been discussions in the U.S. Senate about making daylight savings time permanent. Both would have an impact on how students are affected by schedule changes.

The town hall discussion that followed was primarily driven by parents of middle- and elementary-school students. Few students spoke, but those who did were high-schoolers. The overwhelming response from parents was that they would be in favor of having elementary school start earlier and middle school later, contrary to what was proposed and to the belief that the committee should keep those school times roughly the same. 

“One of the non-negotiables that the committee did consider is the idea that elementary parents indicated 93-percent satisfaction with current end and start times,” Morton explained. “Middle- school parents indicated 89-percent satisfaction, so we just thought it was so overwhelming, that it didn’t make sense to impact it that much, that if we flip flopped those times, then what was the use of the survey if we didn’t listen to the feedback we were given? 

“ … If we hear otherwise,” he added, “we certainly can go back to the drawing board, go back and make some changes.” 

Other non-negotiables include having an instructional day consistent with what it is currently available, having a minimum of 30 minutes (and a preferred 45 minutes) between start and end times for all levels. That would allow bus drivers to rest, as per their contracts, which would  keep contracts between staff and drivers the same. 

Parents argued for an earlier elementary-school start time because those students wake earlier,  compared with middle-schoolers who often struggle to get out of bed. Parents also acknowledged that having elementary-schoolers come home earlier than high-school or middle- school students could create problems for families who rely on older siblings to supervise their kids after school. Parents also noted that elementary-schoolers may be standing in the dark waiting for the bus, depending on time changes. 

Cherry Hill schools continue to seek feedback from the community. Either email SchoolStartTime@chclc.org or participate in the community thought exchange at https://tejoin.com/scroll/951666912.

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