Greenville County Schools has proposed a fifteen minute shift in the elementary school start time beginning in the 2020-2021 school year to ensure on-time drop off for high school students.
Problem: Secondary bus riders, especially at the high school level, are regularly missing instructional time due to late morning arrivals. The late arrivals that occur on a regular basis are due primarily to heavy traffic, a lack of transportation infrastructure in our county, and a critical shortage of bus drivers.
Students on a traditional schedule who are just 10-15 minutes late on a daily basis miss the equivalent of a full class period every week and as much as seven weeks of instruction over the course of a year.
Proposal: Shift elementary bus rider drop off to 7 a.m. and start the school day at 7:45 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. This enables us to add 15 minutes to the window of time buses have to complete secondary routes, without extending the workday for elementary teachers. Eight years ago, we moved the start times for middle and high schools to build in a window for bus transportation. The length of the existing window is no longer adequate.
Will this work? Yes. We are currently in year two of a pilot program testing early drop off (7 instead of 7:15). The initial pilot was at Taylors Elementary for routes serving Eastside High. In year two, the pilot was expanded to include Grove (Southside), and Lake Forest (Wade Hampton). Based on the success of the pilot programs, the percentage of secondary students who arrive late to school on a regular basis is expected to drop from about 16% to 2%.
Impact on Elementary Bus Riders’ Pickup Time: There will be little to no impact on the time of pickup. Many elementary buses already arrive at elementary school by 7 a.m. Currently, students wait on the bus for the building to open at 7:15 a.m. Schools schedule early duty to provide supervision to these students.
Impact on Dismissal: Elementary dismissal will move to 2:15 p.m.
Impact on After School Childcare: Extended Day Programs at GCS elementary schools will continue to operate until 6 p.m. This will require an additional 15 minutes of paid time for extended day workers. This may require a minimal increase to tuition costs for extended day programs.
Impact on Breakfast: Free breakfast will still be available for all students. Service will begin early enough (between 7 a.m. – 7:15 a.m.) to serve all students before the start of school.
Tardies: Students who arrive at elementary school after 7:45 a.m. will be considered tardy.
Other Considered Solutions
Why not move high school start time later? Under the existing bell schedule, high schools begin the day at 8:45 a.m. and end at 3:45 p.m. Moving the day’s end time any later would adversely impact high school students with jobs, athletic practices and competitions, and other extracurricular activities that take place after hours. Late starts to after-school activities is especially impactful for students with restricted licenses who cannot drive after 6 p.m. during daylight savings hours. Currently, our 3:45 end time is the latest for surrounding districts. As a result, students who compete in after-school events that take place in other districts (such as athletic competitions) would miss additional instructional time in the afternoon in an effort to arrive on time for those competitions.
Why not flip times and have high schools start early? There are multiple reasons. Research (American Academy of Pediatrics, National Sleep Institute) shows that biological sleep patterns shift toward later times for both sleeping and waking during adolescence. Sleep is important for all children, but because of this shift, the adolescent brain does not function well early in the day and it is academically advantageous to start older students later in the day. Additionally, many parents in our county work in jobs with shifts that start at 7 a.m. They rely on high and middle school students to help get younger siblings ready for school and provide supervision after the parent has left for work.
Why not hire more bus drivers? That would be great. We are constantly working to hire bus drivers and train them to earn a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) with appropriate passenger certifications. The current Greenville unemployment rate is under 2% and close to an all-time low. To address the driver shortage, we have increased starting bus driver pay to $15.21 per hour, shortened the amount of time it takes to reach the top of the salary scale ($19.06), increased training opportunities, shortened the time it takes to train, and taken steps to improve the working conditions of our drivers. We continue to be about 50 drivers short, but even full staffing would not fix this problem without a time shift.
Why not leave bell times the same and just allow buses to drop off bus riders earlier? This is the current situation at our three elementary pilots (Grove, Taylors, and Lake Forest), but teachers in those schools are being compensated for the additional time supervising and enriching students. Expanding this to all 51 elementary schools would cost $1.8 million per year to ensure adequate supervision for an additional 15 minutes at all 51 schools. Shifting the start and end time for the day keeps the total hours of supervision the same as they are now.