- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

The D.C. Board of Education held a public meeting Tuesday on its plan to have school bells ring at staggered hours, and on Wednesday night unanimously voted against implementing the plan next school year. Thank goodness. The administration would never have been able to pull it off by September.

Unlike the suburbs, D.C. classes begin at the same time, 8:45 a.m. D.C. classes used to start at 9 a.m. until a few years ago, when authorities thought the extra 15 minutes would yield better academic results. Those results did not materialize. This time, authorities had hoped to shave an estimated $3 million off the school budget a budget largely driven out of control by spiraling special-education costs. Those savings probably will not materialize, either.

Still, there are more profound reasons why the changes for high school students, who would begin classes at 8 a.m., should not be implemented. For starters, girls and boys varsity athletic programs usually hold practice and try-out sessions before classes begin at 8:45, while the junior varsity teams hold practice and try-out sessions after class. They do this because the gymnasium and fields of play are used during regular school hours. Moreover, after the seasons start, game times usually begin after school JV teams at 3:30 p.m., girls varsity at 5:30 and boys varsity at 7:30. Rescheduling means the school system would have to rearrange all those schedules, as well as the schedules for the coaches and referees, private bus contractors, and parent and student volunteers. Such mind-blowing paper-shuffling is as likely to be efficiently pulled off as the board reforming the troubled special-education program by September.

The ambitious proposal also would change start times for lower grades. Elementary school children would be expected to start classes at 9:15. Here again, the board is myopic and unrealistic. Will everyone be notified? What about safety concerns? What about crossing guards and police officers? What about the child-care centers, which are responsible for transporting grade-schoolers before and after school? Also, what about low-income children who participate in school-breakfast programs?

The board said it is proposing to stagger school hours because it hopes to shorten bus rides for students, alleviate a bus driver shortage and save money. Again, the board is short-sighted. Most D.C. grade-schoolers walk to neighborhood schools, and hundreds are often escorted, if you will, by older siblings or other neighborhood children. So there would be no shorter bus rides for the majority of the District's 68,000 schoolchildren. Also, most older children who do use buses are on Metro, not school buses. Why upset the entire school system when what needs mending are those programs that touch barely 4,000 students.

The obvious reason for the proposed changes, then, is to help remedy the special-education costs. So, two things must be done. First, the board must scrap the idea to implement the changes in the foreseeable future including the 2003-04 school year. The board and school administrators simply aren't competent enough to make that happen.

More importantly, the board and the administration need to fix the special-education program, which, in and of itself, is in desperate need of special attention.

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