ELKINS - The Randolph Board of Education approved a schedule change for North Elementary School Tuesday, despite impassioned pleas from parents opposed to the earlier start time.
Cynthia Bodkin, principal of North Elementary, asked board members on June 25 to consider a schedule change requiring students to be at her school beginning instruction at 7:15 a.m., and dismissing them at 2:50 p.m.
On Tuesday, BOE members Harvey Taylor, Donna Auvil and Bruce Haddix gave their stamp of approval for the change while Janie Newlon voted no.
Before the vote, three parents voiced their concerns, asking board members to reject the proposal. Karen Walls told the BOE sleep deprivation in students leads to lower test scores.
"It also leads to decreased cognitive ability, negative behavior changes and obesity," Walls said. "I am concerned that my children will be riding a bus with secondary students. I rode the bus with older students and it was not a positive experience as being suggested."
Walls said children will be left alone in their homes because of the scheduling change.
"Are we supporting these unsafe situations?" Walls said. "I would like to see less reward time to free up instructional time. North School loses two instructional days during the Forest Festival because the entire school goes to the park on Thursday. I would like our focus to be more on increasing instruction time."
North School parent Leslie Hart said she wrote a letter detailing her concerns to Bodkin.
"I have a real concern with starting 85 minutes sooner this year," Hart said. "My big concern is early dismissal in the afternoon when these kids get off school at 2:50 or 3 p.m. Who is going to be there (at home) to receive these children? All parents nowadays work into the afternoon hours. My big concern is children in the home unsupervised."
Hart said children and parents are going to have to find alternative arrangements, even incurring additional expenses with daycare.
"That is a big concern for us," Hart said. "Another concern is the bigger children who are going to be saddled with the responsibility of caring for the littler ones now, whether it is in their own homes, or neighbor children."
Parent Amy Parsons also asked board members to vote against changing the schedule.
"We live close to the school so we don't have busing issues," Parsons said. "My child is exhausted by Thursday, beginning school at 8:20 a.m. We are not going to have any family time (if the schedule changes.) We are a 9 to 5 household. Once home, we do dinner and homework - she will have to be in bed by 7:30 p.m. to even get up at 5:30 or 6 a.m. to get to school."
Parsons said there has to be some sort of middle ground.
Auvil said she had read every letter that folks had submitted on the issue.
"I understand your concerns," Auvil said. "I feel I was elected to represent the people. But this is not a unique situation. I lived almost on the county line of Tucker County when my children went to school. They were the first kids on the bus and the last to get off. They rode the bus with secondary kids and we had no trouble with that."
Auvil said she spoke with Superintendent of Schools Terry George asking about whether the change will be made for all Randolph County schools in the 2015-2016 school year.
"He said that was not a sure thing, because five additional bus drivers would be needed," Auvil said. "At this point, I think it's a good move. This is not a popularity contest - I don't take this lightly, but I will vote to change the schedule."
Newlon said she had a problem with the schedule change.
"I think the start time is too early," Newlon said. "I do have to say, I would not want my little kid riding the bus with the big kids. Big kids are cruel."
On June 30, Bodkin hosted a parents meeting at North Elementary to get input from those directly affected by the change. Bodkin said the reasoning behind the new schedule is to make North School better. She said when Regional Education Service Agency representatives visited the school, they instructed her to look at the school's schedule, prompting the schedule change proposal. She said by changing the schedule, the school would gain 25 accrued minutes of instruction time each day.
The next regular board meeting is slated for 5 p.m. Aug. 5.