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In many a GTA household featuring children and working parents, weekday mornings require the precision of a highwire act.
There are only so many minutes to get kids up and fed, cram lunches and homework into backpacks, walk dogs, ensure everyone gets to school on time and still make the commute to work.
Mess with one of the pieces, and the whole thing threatens to come tumbling down.
So it’s not surprising that some parents in Durham Region are balking at a proposed plan that will change start times at 38 schools beginning in September by anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes.
In four elementary schools, bell times would be delayed by 30 to 45 minutes as a result of the proposal, which is aimed at cutting costs and streamlining student bus service.
“People’s schedules and lives revolve around the school schedule,” says Andy Lubczynski, whose three children attend Eagle Ridge Public School in Ajax, which would see its start time change to 9 a.m. from 8:30.
Moving bell times has “a rippling effect,” adds Lubczynski, who argues the change isn’t necessary and leaves a handful of schools bearing the brunt.
The proposed move, to be voted on by Durham District School Board trustees at a March 20 meeting, will affect 28 public schools and 10 in the Catholic board.
Eagle Ridge parent Sheri McCleary says if it was only a matter of 10 or 15 minutes, no one would fuss.
But “30 minutes is a big deal — that’s a huge impact on families.”
She and Lubczynski made that case to Durham trustees at a board meeting this week. Parents and students are also speaking out on a Facebook page and online petition against the proposal.
A total of 26 schools in the two boards face adjustments of 10 minutes or less and eight will see their days shift by between 15 and 25 minutes.
Eagle Ridge is one of four elementary schools facing changes of between half and hour and 45 minutes, along with others in Uxbridge, Port Perry and Whitby.
Durham Student Transportation Services, which manages busing for the two boards, says the move will save $ 1.9 million a year and relieve congestion by taking 48 buses off the road. It will also mean an additional 1,562 students who currently walk are eligible for busing.
But some of the families most affected by the changes say they are paying the price — through extra costs for before-school child care and disrupted extra-curriculars at the other end of the day.
“We are very concerned about the negative outcome and the financial burden it will be placing on our family and many others in our community,” says Melodie Langhorst, a parent of three young children who attend Joseph Gould Public School in Uxbridge. The school’s current morning bell at 8:30 a.m. would start 40 minutes later.
Both she and her husband are teachers and have no flexibility when it comes to commuting to work. She estimates the move could end up costing the family $ 1,200 a month in extra child care, not to mention “it turns the whole routine and schedule for the family upside down.”
In north Ajax, it’s also a safety concern, says Sheri McCleary. Under the plan, Pickering High School and Lincoln Alexander Public School across the road, which are walking distance from Eagle Ridge, would both start at 8:15 a.m., which means 2,400 students arriving and leaving school at the same time.
“That gridlock is going to be crazy,” says McCleary, who has a daughter at Eagle Ridge and a son who will be attending the high school next year.
But the student transportation group has examined the plan “and we don’t see a risk to student safety in the changes,” said Terry Simzer, communications manager for the Durham District School Board. He said in some neighbourhoods the plan will improve safety.
Simzer said after the proposal was posted on its website in January, the board invited feedback from parents until March 1 through emails, phone calls or comment sheets filled out at one of the three open houses it held to provide information.
About 3 per cent of parents affected by the changes have contacted the board to complain in emails, phone calls, or comment sheets filled out at the forums, while 97 per cent have not commented, he added.
Tamara McKenney of Uxbridge is among those who have attended the public meetings and is happy with the new bell times at Joseph Gould.
“It’s good to think they could save (almost) $ 2 million by doing this,” she says. “Our schools need that money desperately.”
McKenney says she understands the worry about child care, but for her the later dismissal time will relieve that pressure. It means she’ll be able to finish work and get to school on time, no longer having to rely on others to pick up her two kids.
But she says these kinds of scheduling changes for busy families cause problems. “It’s a huge amount to manage and any time it’s shuffled, it’s a big deal.”
Lubczynski, an elementary school principal in Toronto, says delaying the bell for younger children also amounts to a loss of prime learning time because younger kids tend to wake up early and learn better in the morning. He also cites research showing teens often perform better with later start times, an idea that a growing number of high schools are embracing.
His idea: flip the changes so that Pickering Secondary starts later and Eagle Ridge starts earlier.
Asked whether that’s up for discussion, Simzer said “we are reviewing the options.”