COLUMBIA — A transportation plan featuring a 9 a.m. start time and 4:05 p.m. dismissal for Columbia high school students is the first choice of Superintendent Chris Belcher and the district's busing company, First Student.
The plan will be presented to the Columbia School Board on Monday.
The recommended three-tier plan has middle schools and seven elementary schools in the first time slot, or tier, all other elementary schools in the second tier and high schools in the third.
Under the plan:
Currently Hickman High School starts at 7:45 a.m. and dismisses at 2:51 p.m. Rock Bridge High School starts at 7:50 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m.
Belcher said all of the district’s high school principals support the 9 a.m. start time.
He said this plan is unlike any other in the state because most districts resort to earlier start times without considering the science behind students’ sleep and alertness levels.
"I want to commend our principals and our Board of Education," he said. "We’re actually going to do what the research says, and we’re going to make it work with all of the other issues."
The board has five other options under consideration. It will announce its transportation decision for the 2013-2014 school year on March 11, Belcher said.
Board member Jonathan Sessions said this plan is the most progressive of the six. He said students should have the opportunity to take classes online and come to school at a time that works best with their sleep and activity schedule.
"That is why we proposed the idea of flex timing," Sessions said. "We want to give the opportunity for our students who are earlier risers to come in at an earlier hour, and we want to give students who want to sleep in the opportunity to come in later and leave a little later."
Jilly Dos Santos, founder of Students' Say, a forum for high school students to voice opinions about district-wide decisions, said she supports this plan. She said that a slightly earlier start time would be preferred for students in after-school activities but that logistically it was not an option.
"To the best of my understanding, the 9 a.m. time is the best that the district can do within the parameters of time and cost," Dos Santos said. "Ideally, we would want a time between 8 and 9 a.m., but we can't demand things that are impossible, and I think the 9 a.m. time is a great compromise."
Dos Santos said starting later in the morning would allow students with packed afternoon schedules the opportunity to take online classes or practice sports before classes begin at 9 a.m.
"It’s school before school," she said. "Even for sports. Initially, coaches were a little uneasy about this, at least from the interviews I read. The coaches have said they are willing to work around and have some practices before and some after school, so they don’t have to stay at school until eight o'clock."
Under this latest scenario, high school athletes would potentially miss more class because they have to hit the road for away games.
Sessions said athletes are already used to missing class for competition and that the benefits of starting the school day at 9 a.m. outweigh the small amount of class time missed for sports.
"It’s two hours to St. Louis and Kansas City whether we get out at 2:45 or 3:45," he said.
Another potential conflict involves teachers who coach missing too many classes. However, Jason West, communications director for the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA), said the Columbia district has a policy in place to make sure it will be in compliance with the activities association on this.
The bylaw at issue is: "A school shall not enter more than six interscholastic events in any sport or music activity exclusive of district and state events sponsored by MSHSAA, which cause an individual to be absent from his/her teaching duties."
"It wants to preserve the idea that that teacher was hired to be a teacher first and a coach or sponsor second," Belcher said about the bylaw. "We will have to manage that."
Bruce Whitesides, director of athletics for the district, said there also is concern about maintaining focus on academics for student athletes.
"The philosophy of academics and the time spent with academics is a key part of MSHSAA and their philosophy," he said. "But there’s nothing in black and white on that part."
He said he is confident student athletes will be able to adapt to missing more class time than they do now.
"A lot of our athletes and students are quite resilient in making sure they are making up work they are already missing," Whitesides said. "We’re just probably going to have to wait and see what were going to have to deal with."
Whitesides said teams could consider morning practices before 9 a.m. to avoid staying into the evening after school. Traveling for competition and games presents another challenge.
"It will change the dynamics of the school days," he said. "If we need to be in Kansas City by 4:30, we’re going to leave a little earlier and miss class time. Our competition is usually in either Kansas City or St. Louis, so travel time is quite a big part of our dynamic."
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.
The Columbia School Board meets at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Neil C. Aslin District Administration Building, 1818 W. Worley St. Here is the presentation going to the Columbia School Board on Monday evening.