Parents mobilize over new BPS start times

Algorithm has elementary starts as early as 7:15 a.m.

Yawu Miller | 12/11/2017, 12:07 p.m.
Sunday, parents gave voice to that outrage, with more than 150 people filling a function room at Doyle’s Café in ...
City Councilor Anissa Essaibi-George addresses parents at Doyles Cafe as state Rep. Ed Coppinger and City Councilor Matt O'Malley look on. Banner photo

The first call state Rep. Edward Coppinger received was from his wife. A West Roxbury parent of BPS students, Coppinger said he immediately called Mayor Martin Walsh.

“This affects me personally, professionally and politically,” he said.

Coppinger said Walsh told him the decision was made by BPS, not the Mayor’s Office. Rob Consalvo, the BPS chief of staff, explained to Coppinger how the changes were generated by the MIT algorithm. That explanation didn’t sit well with the representative.

“If you are moving boxes for Amazon, use an algorithm,” he told the gathering at Doyle’s. “Don’t use that for moving children.”

Jane Miller, the parent of a student at the Manning Elementary School in Jamaica Plain, started the online petition and called for the Sunday meeting at Doyle’s on a Facebook page called Start Smart BPS.

Parents who turned out to the meeting expressed frustration with the new start times.

Antoinette Hemphill, the parent of children in the first and fourth grades at the Patrick Lyndon K-8 School said the proposed 7:15 start time and 1:15 end time would make it impossible for her to keep a work schedule. She attended a BPS meeting on start times in Hyde Park in November where parents weighed in on start times. For the elementary school parents, there was consensus.

“It was mostly 8 or 9,” she said. “Nobody wanted 7. It’s obvious that wasn’t taken into consideration in the algorithm. I think it’s unacceptable that that was the process. The community meetings were for show.”

Dave Bickham, the parent of a K1 and a K2 student at the Mission Hill School in Jamaica Plain, also cited the 1:15 end time for that school as a hardship.

“My wife and I work,” he said. “A 1:15 end time would mean three to four hours of after-school time and 10 hours in the school building. And that’s assuming they can meet the need.”

Bickham and his wife currently pay $10 a day for an after-school program that’s supported by parent fundraising and generally runs for two hours a day. Bickham and other parents said any savings BPS is able to generate through reduced busing costs would be consumed by increased after-school costs.

Action plan

Parents who attended the Doyle’s meeting agreed to turn out at the Bolling Building Wednesday, Dec. 13 for the School Committee meeting to testify on the proposed changes to start times.

Coppinger urged the parents to keep pressure on elected officials and the School Committee.

“We really need to keep this up,” he said. “Everybody in this room needs to bring one friend with them Wednesday night.”

Organizer Jane Miller and others urged the mostly white gathering of BPS parents to advocate for the entire system, rather than pitting the start times of some schools over those of others.

“We’re all in it together for equitable start times for all children across the city,” she said. “Everybody needs to get something that works for their community.”

Citywide Parent Council Member Lucas Orwig, whose child attends the Hernandez School, echoed Miller’s point.

“The answer should not be, ‘If you don’t like your school’s start time, pick another school,’” he said.

BPS parent Tonya Larson Tedesco urged parents to keep pressure on the mayor.

“Mayor Walsh makes the decision about how much money we allocate to schools,” she said, noting that school districts around the country that have changed start times have incurred additional costs. “We need to advocate with Mayor Walsh for more money.”

Coppinger suggested calling the mayor’s office directly, listing the number — 617-635-4500 — and noting that city officials keep tabs on constituent concerns through the volume of calls they receive.

“If that is the overwhelming statistic — school start times — over potholes and all other stuff, what do you think they’re going to address?” he said.