New Osceola County school start times will go into effect in August, despite outcry from some parents this week.
Emotions ran high as parents and students took to the podium and voiced concerns over the proposal, which significantly alters the start and release times for about seven Osceola County schools.
The change will align these schools with others in the district, so that high schools begin around 7:20 a.m., elementary schools around 8:20 a.m. and middle schools between 9 and 9:20 a.m.
Superintendent Debra Pace said standardizing the times will save the district about $2 million in transportation costs each year because bus drivers will have more time to make additional trips.
A similar three-tiered system already exists in nearby counties.
Schools that will experience major bell schedule changes include NeoCity Academy, Osceola High School, New Beginnings, Neptune Middle, St. Cloud Middle, Bellalago Academy and Denn John Middle.
Other schools, including Osceola School for the Arts, will experience minor scheduling tweaks.
Yet multiple parents from Osceola School for the Arts spoke out against the 10-minute later start time, from 9 a.m. to 9:10 a.m.
“This is a disservice to the students,” said Jennifer Rice Palmer, who’s daughter is a sophomore at the school. “Leaving 10 minutes later may not seem like a lot to you all…but that 10 minutes makes all the difference in the world.”
The district had considered moving the grade 6-12 countywide school to a high school start time around 7:20 a.m., Pace said, but she claimed parents and students seemed uninterested in that adjustment.
Some parents from Celebration K-8, including Christine Barone, were unhappy with the 35-minute adjustment there, moving start time from 8:45 a.m. to 9:25 a.m.
“Since most of our kids at the school are elementary, I don’t know why you’re moving us to a middle school start time,” Barone said. “That doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Poor communication was a major complaint by some parents, who claimed they only recently learned about the proposal.
Dina Kortuem, a St. Cloud Middle School teacher, said the transportation director who hosted a meeting at their school was rude and disrespectful to parents and staff. Kortuem thought the district could have done a much better job getting the word out.
“You sent out a survey about the school climate, can’t you send out a survey asking me if I want to come to school at 9 a.m.?” she asked. “I think it’s important for you to be more up front with your teachers and parents.”
Pace and multiple school board members admitted they could have done better at sharing information.
“We had some fault lines in our communication plan,” Pace said. “We missed the mark in some respects, though we certainly tried to make sure we’ve been in communication with folks.”
Still, Pace pushed her recommendation for approval, saying that delaying a vote would give the district less time to inform parents about the change and establish extended morning and afternoon programs for students who need them.
Pace also said slight adjustments to the proposal could negate any potential cost savings for the district.
“What you see before you now is a proposal driven more by numbers – data - than by emotion,” said the superintendent.
The School Board ultimately approved the changes 4-1, with Terry Castillo the sole opposing vote.
The new times go into effect in August.