ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Students who attend a public school in St. Johns County could be going to class at a different time during the next school year.
The St. Johns County School Board held a workshop Tuesday morning, during which leaders discussed the proposed change. The district said the county's continuous growth is leading to longer times on the school bus for students, and sometimes they're late for class.
"As the traffic increases in the area, as new construction comes online, as road construction occurs and changes, it's impacted our ability to get kids to and from school," Superintendent Tim Forson told News4Jax on Wednesday.
The changes would include the following:
- Elementary and students at K-8 schools would begin at 8:25 a.m. and end their day at 2:45 p.m. (change from 8:30 a.m. to 2:50 p.m.)
- Middle school students would start at 7:30 a.m. and end their day at 1:50 p.m. (change from 7:50 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
- High school students would start at 9:20 a.m. and end their day at 3:50 p.m. (change from 9:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.)
The district said school start times have not been discussed in 10 years. It pointed out that the district grows by 1,000 to 1,500 students per year, and half of the district's 41,000 students use the school bus. Many of the district's 258 buses are running double routes to keep up with demand.
Many parents reached out to News4Jax, wanting to know why middle school students would be impacted the most, as those students already have the earliest start times. The school district said it's because the middle school buses run first, then elementary and then high school. Many buses run routes for all and because high school buses run last, that’s where the district is seeing the most students arriving late to school.
Some parents have asked why can’t high schools start 20 minutes earlier instead of middle schools. Forson said the tier system they have now -- starting with middle, then elementary and then high -- works for the district, so, therefore, they have to change middle the most, so it trickles down. He said making middle school start earlier will help students who ride the school bus to get to school on time.
Forson said that over the last couple of years, the district has noticed increased difficulty in getting bused students to school on time. He said the district began looking at new start and dismissal times a year ago.
Another option the school district considered was having a different bus schedule for each region of the county, but Forson said that option had more downfalls.
"It meant we would need more buses, more bus operators and a much higher cost to the system as a whole," he said.
Some concerns from parents include unhappy middle school students, and possibly parents, because middle school would start 20 minutes earlier; scheduling conflicts with after-school activities and child care; and students walking and riding bikes to bus stops in the dark.
"It's probably more disruptive, really to the adults than it is to the children -- children are pretty resilient," Forson said. "Buses to specialized schools that we have support schools, we will have to work through as we move forward. Honestly, I don’t think you’re going to see significant changes in times."
As for students walking and biking in the dark, he asks parents to make sure students are taking a safe route and says the Sheriff’s Office constantly monitors bus stops to make sure they’re safe.
The school superintendent has the authority to change start times without approval from the board, but an agreement was made to add it to the March agenda, which is when the board is expected to vote. The superintendent expects the proposal will pass. Then parents will begin to receive information from both the district and their child's school, as times would change for the next school year.