Protesting parents oppose early school start time

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff

Concerned and angry parents gathered in front of Range Elementary School all day Wednesday protesting a change to the scheduled start time at the school.
   Parents received a notice from the school last week that the elementary supervisor changed the start time to 7:05 a.m. instead of 7:15 a.m. The notice was effective immediately.
   The change came about to solve a problem with a bus connection with Happy Valley High School and Central Elementary School students.
   The current bus route transports Range students beginning at 6 a.m., drops them off at the school around 6:45 a.m., then picks up students at Central and Happy Valley. The afternoon route begins with picking up Range students at 2:05 p.m. and then driving to Central and Happy Valley to pick up the other students before they are transported home.
   One main concern of the parents was the length of the day Range students are forced to deal with. Because they are required to ride the afternoon bus until 3:45 p.m. or later, some kids are spending nearly three hours of the day commuting to and from school.
   The change in starting time resulted from a meeting with Range Principal John Tolley, his supervisor Kevin Ward and Assistant Director of Schools Pat Hicks. Many options were discussed to prevent students at the other two schools from being late to class.
   "We had several problems with bus hook-ups and making connections. We discussed several options," said Tolley.
   It was agreed that the best decision at this time would be to make Range's start time earlier. Since the change only involved a change in schedule for one school, Carter County School Board approval was not required, according to Director of Schools Dallas Williams.
   Williams said that in the future the best decision would be to allocate another school bus to operate the Range community route.
   "We (school board) will look at it as a board and decide if that is an option. That may be the best decision to the problem," Williams said.
   However, lack of funds prevents this option from taking place at the present time. Williams estimated the cost of a new school bus would be approximately $60,000, not counting wages for a new bus driver.
   Right now, the parents are requesting a meeting with the school board to discuss their feelings. Normally, the school board meets monthly, but due to a convention members will be attending, a November meeting was not scheduled.
   Unless a special meeting is called, the parents will have to wait until the December meeting to speak to the entire board. Williams said the December meeting has not been scheduled yet, and said school board members would need to request the Range situation be added to the agenda.
   Not only are the parents sacrificing time to protest in front of the school with numerous signs, saying, "Honk for our children" and "7:05 is way too early," some parents are holding their children out of school hoping that doing so will speed up the decision-making process.
   One of the protesters, Jake Denny, said 52 kids were reported absent on Wednesday.
   As vehicles passed throughout the day, the majority honked horns in support, causing a distraction for some classes on the front side of the building, but protesters said the teachers did not seem to mind the extra noise.
   One teacher even bought bags of M&M's for the parents. Denny said a petition has been started and approximately 50 signatures have been collected. Considering that nearly 120 students attend the school, Denny thinks the majority of parents are in agreement that the start time is too early.
   Williams said, "That is early. I agree with you. The school board will be looking at the beginning times at all of the county schools. We have decided to look at that as a system-wide project ... We are looking at the possibility of extending opening times at each school in the county."