Transportation Report, Start Times, And Debunking Myths

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Now that we have the report in hand, let’s resume our conversation about healthy, safe, age-appropriate start times for all AACPS students. The report I am referring to is written by Prismatic Services, the transportation consultants hired by AACPS to evaluate student transportation operations, as well as to present alternative bell schedules. Their 179-page report released last month details 27 recommendations and confirms what many of us feared, our transportation department is riddled with inefficiency.

From half-full buses to nonexistent formal procedures and processes, we have a lot of work to do to correct years, decades even, of transportation problems commonly experienced by students, parents and staff. For far too long, we’ve allowed our buses to drive us, no pun intended, instead of appropriately staffing, training and managing our transportation team. While some of this inefficiency was caused by a lousy economy and lack of funding, we can no longer ignore both the wasteful and harmful results of prioritizing other items over investing in our transportation department.

We are so inefficient that the previous $8 million price tag to align school start times with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations was debunked with the Prismatic report. Let that sink in for a second.

I take issue with recent reporting/editorial from another local news source, not the Severna Park Voice, challenging the benefits of implementing healthy and safe school hours. All one has to do is Google and read the mountain of science, research, and evidence that conclusively cites the plethora of benefits of tailoring school start times to age group. Recent reporting ignores the fact that students without access to rides to school sleep less than their classmates whose parents are able to drive their children to school, thereby allowing some teens to sleep an extra 20 to 30 minutes a day. Recent reporting that ignores the pleas of working parents who, for years, either have been forced to obtain before-care or not show up to work until 10:00am. Recent reporting that doesn’t acknowledge that one reason for our substitute shortage could be attributed to our inconsistent start times.

Perhaps the authors of recent reporting didn’t read research from the University of Washington that found the later school start times to be associated with reduced sleepiness, increased academic performance, and an increase in punctuality and attendance in disadvantaged populations, which “could decrease the achievement gap between low and high socioeconomic groups.”

I also disagree with the same reporting, which contends that “hectic schedules, academic pressures and family obligations make it impossible for teens to get the nine-plus hours of sleep a day recommended for good health and development.” The reason why our teens don’t get the amount of sleep their bodies and minds need is because of circadian rhythms, sleep cycles, and start times that are inappropriately early. That’s all.

It’s equally absurd to start elementary schools as late as 9:45 when those students have likely been up (and in some of them in before-care) for hours. An 8:00am elementary school start time, as proposed as part of “scenario one” in Prismatic’s report, not only allows for parents to maintain common working hours, but time for our youngest students to more easily engage in afterschool activities or play outside after school, a luxury not available to many elementary students because current dismissal times are as late at 4:10pm with some students on the bus until almost 5:00pm.

To read Prismatic’s report, please visit www.aacps.org and search for “transportation consultant.” As always, I can be reached at dschallheim@aacps.org.

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