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Pinellas County approves changes to school start times

School bus
Pinellas County School Board officials voted Tuesday to change some school start times for the 2023-24 school year — with the alterations being mainly because of school bus pick-up times.

The idea is to improve efficiency of bus routes, but it still leaves most high schools starting around 7 a.m., which goes against what researchers say is best for teenagers' sleep patterns.

School start times will be changing next year in Pinellas County. The idea is to get buses to school on time, but not everyone is happy about it.

The move was approved by the board, 7-0, and came after a series of meetings and workshops trying to find ways to get 94,000 students to school on time and end chronic lateness on some routes.

"First thing, in terms of bus stops changing, it is the arterial stops, it's not the neighborhood stops," said Superintendent Kevin Hendrick.

"So those arterial stops are designed to change every year based on where students sign up for our magnet programs, so they could change every year. We've not done that for years. And that's caused incredible inefficiency."

A few schools will see significant changes, moving start times for the 2023-24 school year from around 9 a.m. to the 7 o'clock hour instead.

Those include:

  • Pinellas High Innovation School, formerly known as Clearwater Intermediate School, is moving from 9:15 a.m. – 3:45 p.m. to 7:25 a.m. – 1:55 p.m.
  • Bay Point Middle School is moving from 9:40 a.m. – 4:10 p.m. to 7:15 a.m. – 1:45 p.m.
  • East Lake Middle School is moving from 9:40 a.m. – 4:10 p.m. to 7:25 a.m. – 1:55 p.m.

A few members of the public spoke against the change, saying it would force young children to wait in the dark for early morning buses.

One speaker who gave her name as Angela recalled the death of Ethan Weiser, a 15-year-old who was hit and killed while crossing the roadon a dark, early morning in Clearwater in August 2022.

"We already have one. We don't need another one," she said at Tuesday's meeting.

School board member Carol Cook urged parents with concerns to make a plan.

"This would be a time for people who are taking the bus to get with their neighbors and get with friends so that they have an adult covering those bus stops," Cook said.

School board vice chair Laura Hine voted for the change, but lamented that high schoolers are still seeing the earliest bell times, when research shows later would be better for their sleep patterns.

"One thing that's really difficult is we've been working on later high school start times for a few years. And as you can see in this presentation with these couple of schools, we're going in the wrong direction. And that doesn't feel good," said Hine.

Some routes will combine middle schoolers with high schoolers on the same bus. As assistant to the bus driver will be present on most routes to keep an eye out, but school board officials said such age-mingling has been going on in neighboring counties without incident.

The changes take effect in July. For more details, click here.

I cover health and K-12 education – two topics that have overlapped a lot since the pandemic began.
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