PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — After a big push from nearly 6,000 Pinellas County parents, school district leaders are looking at a new plan to push back high school start times.
Currently, high school starts at 7:05 a.m. Parents would like to see their kids start at 8:30 a.m., but district leaders say a 7:30 a.m. start time is more doable because of bus schedules.
Parents who signed the petition say it’s ridiculous how early their high schoolers climb onto buses. Some are picked up at 5 a.m. to get to school on time.
Amy Weintraub’s high schoolers are constantly exhausted. They often stay up to do homework until 11, then wake up the next morning at 6, despite her best efforts to get them in bed early.
“Do you know how impossible it is to get teenagers to go to sleep at 9 p.m.? It’s impossible,” she said with a laugh.
Weintraub says in order for her daughter and a foreign exchange student who has become a part of their family to get to enough rest, school should start at 8:30.
At a workshop Tuesday, Pinellas School District leaders announced a new plan to push back start times between 15 and 20 minutes, yet, they say pushing it back to 8:30 is nearly impossible without forcing elementary school kids to walk in the dark or cutting buses.
Although Hillsborough County pushed back their high school start time to 8:30 a.m. this school year, Pinellas County leaders say they offer more transportation options for students in choice programs. In Pinellas County, 75 percent of buses have long routes that cater to students in choice and special needs programs.
Parents aren’t giving up. They plan to present the signed petition to school board leaders on January 30.
Parent Christie Bruner explains, “It’s not going to go away. We have 5,000 plus parents that signed on within a few weeks and we’re not going to make a small change and be done with it.”
Gibbs High Schooler Caitlin Ferkile says she likes the 7:20 or 7:30 start time compromise. “The later we start the later we get out,” she explained. “Students who work won’t get as many work hours in because they have to do homework or go to sleep. If you push it back to 8:30, I feel students will still only get 4-5 hours of sleep because they have to work so late.”
The district would likely have to hire about 30 more bus drivers if they push the start time back.
The school board has a lot of time to consider start times, they won’t make a final vote until April 10.