As Andover continues to debate changes to school start times — and the possibility of older students going to school later than their younger counterparts – parents will have a big voice in the issue.
An advisory group of 13 parents has been formed by Andover school principals and PTOs to provide feedback on the issue to the School Department.
The School Committee is considering changing the times because some experts say that biologically, high school students need more sleep time than they usually get. Students of that age generally have trouble getting to sleep at night, and therefore have difficulty waking up in the morning for an early start to school, some experts say.
That feedback from the parents group will go to the School Start Times Working Group. That group consists of school staff members headed up by Sandra Trach, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. The Parent Advisory Group was formed to provide feedback about the potential drawbacks and benefits of changing the school start times. The parent group will also provide school start time proposals.
School officials said the parent advisory group has members from across the school community. The group is composed of one parent from Shawsheen school, a parent from each school that has kindergarten through eighth-grade classes, three parents from Andover High School and one parent to represent special education students.
At School Committee meetings, the debate has pitted elementary school parents against middle and high school parents as they joust over what age group would be helped or hurt by the proposed changes. Some parents of elementary school students have said they don't want their children getting off the school bus in the darkness late in the afternoon during the winter.
"I think it's a great idea," said Joel Blumstein, chairman of the School Committee. "I think it's really important. This has been a controversial issue. We've had a lot of parent input already, but... this group is going to get much more into the details."
The parents in the advisory group are: Andrew Adams, Lynn Andelman, John Barry, Nancy Buckley, Charlene Clark, Vikas Choudhary, Kathy Luz Cote, Dave Crow, Kathleen Fergus, Matthew Nigrelli, Patricia Rich, Kate Squillacioti, and Ruihua Yin. School officials said the school each parent is associated with is not being released to the public to protect the parents' confidentiality. However, anyone who wants to submit input to the group is welcome to email this address: email@example.com.
As Andover considers the school start time changes, the School Committee has established guidelines which include: not picking up any bus-transported students before 7 a.m.; starting both the middle and high schools 20 minutes later than the current start time, with a goal of beginning the school day at 8:30 a.m.; and setting the elementary school start time no earlier than the high school's current start time of 7:44 a.m.
The School Committee will eventually vote whether to change the starting times.