School start times stall — again — in Barrington

Superintendent says district won’t change start times until strategic plan is done; frustrated parents speak out ·

The twice-delayed revamp of Barrington public school start times has been delayed once again, with no clarity on when, or if, it will be implemented.

Last Thursday night, Barrington Superintendent of Schools Michael Messore told the Barrington School Committee that he is not recommending a change in school start times until the district completes its strategic plan.

Yet the most recent draft of that strategic plan has scarce mention of school start times (see below).

Mr. Messore’s announcement sparked criticism from a group of parents in the audience, as well as from the most vocal proponent of changing start times within the school committee.

School committee member Dr. Megan Douglas was not happy with the news. She said the district has been a leader for other initiatives and should be with later school start times at the middle and high school level.

More than two years ago, a prior school committee voted to alter start times for middle and high school students — pushing them back from 7:40 and 7:45 a.m., respectively. At the time, it was a victory for a group of activist parents who had been studying the issue and urging the district to push back start times. They cite numerous scientific studies that document an array of health and educational benefits for sleep-deprived teenagers if they start school later than the crack of dawn.

But in March 2016, the committee voted to delay the change, and last year, citing fiscal constraints, school officials further delayed the initiative by passing a budget that did not include money for the start time change.

Mr. Messore said the district has made some strides with exploring issues related to school start times, such as childcare and student transportation. But, he added: “I'm not going to be making any recommendations for changes next year or changes to the budget.”

Dr. Douglas said the costs associated with changing school start times at the high school and middle school would be well worth the return on investment. 

“The idea of putting it off … I don’t find acceptable,” she said.

She was not alone.

During the public comment period of the meeting, more than a half-dozen residents spoke out against the district’s decision to push this back even further. 

Dr. Carla Martin said other communities that have already implemented the changes have seen improvements in everything from fewer traffic accidents to better attendance rates. She added: “Just because some of us are sleep-deprived and successful, doesn’t mean we should impose that on our children. We can do better. We have the knowledge. I think we really owe it to our kids.”

Jennifer Boylan said she was disappointed with school officials. 

“What happened, guys?” she asked. “You all said you were going to do this.”

Sarah O’Brien was also disappointed.

“You say it’s a budget issue. It’s not a budget issue. You don’t want to do it,” she said.

A few residents told the school committee they were pleased with the decision to further delay the change in school start times. 

“I have a senior in high school, and I am so happy you didn’t change a thing. So happy,” said Anne Merlino.

School committee member Gina Pine suggested Barrington should wait to see if the Rhode Island General Assembly passes any laws that affect school start times statewide.

Dr. Douglas disagreed with that premise.

“To stand back and wait seems inconsistent with Barrington’s history,” she said.

Strategic plan says very little about school start times

The Barrington School Department’s draft strategic plan, which was released in early January, has only one mention of the school start time change. 

Under the “Social-Emotional Well-Being” section, it states: “Evaluate our programs and schedules to reduce stress and use time efficiently (breaks, recess, start and end times).”

Pam Lauria attended last Thursday night’s school committee meeting and questioned the district’s most recent reason for delaying the implementation of the start time changes.

“Nothing has been done in the last 10 months to move this forward. Promises were made, budget reasons were used,” she said.

Ms. Lauria added: “I read the strategic plan. I am almost as disappointed in the strategic plan as I am in this topic. I don’t see it (the school start time change initiative) embedded. I see a word with no measurable guidelines on how it will be … implemented and when.”

Ms. Lauria said she has two children who attend Barrington High School. 

“My children now will definitely not benefit from this (start time change) … the harm is done to my children,” she said.