By Jessica Groover
A 4 p.m. release time for elementary school is too late, said several parents about a three-tier busing plan the Cabarrus County Board of Education reviewed at a meeting last week.
As it was first proposed, the plan calls for high schools and four unnamed elementary schools to start at 7:15 or 7:30 a.m. and end at 2:15 p.m. Middle school students would be in school from 8:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m, and most elementary schools would start at 9:15 a.m. and end at 4 p.m.
With these times, the elementary school instruction time would be 30 minutes longer, teacher assistants who drive buses would be in the classroom more and bus drivers would work full time. The plan would also allow for 50 fewer buses, saving the school system about $4 million in capital outlay.
While some parents have said they are happy that teacher assistants will be in the classrooms more and that the school system is saving money, they are worried about elementary school students being at school too late and getting off the buses in the dark.
“Their focus time is over by 3 p.m.,” said Christina Brown, president of the Parent Teacher Organization for Carl A. Furr Elementary School. “I have two children, and by 3 in the afternoon, they’re finished. They need some downtime.”
While she agreed that high school students should begin and end their day first, Brown said that middle school students should start and end later than elementary school students, because they need more sleep during that period of growth.
Sue Abbate, president of the Parent Teacher Organization for Charles E. Boger Elementary School, agreed that elementary school students should not be released at 4 p.m., although she thought they should be the ones to start first.
“A lot of young kids end up waking up early in the morning,” Abbate said. “The high schools should start next (at 8:15) so they can be out to work or have extracurricular activities. A lot of the middle school students are not working and don’t have as many sports.”
Both Abbate and Brown said a concern they have is that working parents would have to find child care services before and after school if elementary school students start their day at 9 a.m.
This concern was one that associate superintendent Jim Amendum addressed at the meeting last week. He also presented a list of advantages and concerns that principals provided in an e-mail survey.
Besides having the teacher assistants in the classroom more, the advantages included the increased elementary instructional day, capital outlay savings, less driver turnover, athletics not being affected, savings to be used for cameras on buses and a decrease in tardiness at elementary schools.
The concerns included those about childcare, a late release for elementary students, the impact on the staff who have children, possible loss of Kids: Plus revenue, losing morning hours to instruct elementary students and the start time being too early for high school students.
Greta Wallace, treasurer for the Parent Teacher Student Organization at Harris Road Middle School, could relate to the concern about the early start for high school students as a mother of two high school students and one middle school student.
“(My children in high school) leave at five to 7 a.m. to go to high school, and I know they don’t function that well in the morning,” Wallace said.
She proposes elementary schools start first, then middle schools and for high schools to begin and end last.
While parents’ proposed schedules were different, their compliments about the plan were the same. They were happy that teacher assistants would be in the classrooms more and not also driving buses.
“As a substitute teacher, I don’t know when the assistant is going to get in, and they’re so stress when they get there,” said Susan Ferris, member of the Coltrane-Webb Parent Teacher Community Organization. “We need the assistants in the classrooms.”
Many of the concerns and compliments parents provided about the busing plan have been heard by school board members, said Holly Blackwelder, chair of the board of education.
“These are the same questions the board has as well,” Blackwelder said. “Just because we’re discussing it doesn’t mean a decision has been made. The process has just started.”
Blackwelder said many people have told her they liked the plan but were worried about the elementary school start and end times. She said the board will hear several alternatives and receive more information at the board’s next work session on April 23 at Concord Middle School.
Last week, Blackwelder asked to receive feedback from the parent council that meets with superintendent Barry Shepherd before the board votes on the busing plan. The parent council will meet on April 22.
• Contact reporter Jessica Groover: 704-789-9152