School starting time change causes uproar in Bristol, Tennessee

compiled by Lewis Loflin

We hear constantly about education and failing schools. It's easy to blame the teachers and finally school officials decided to try to do something about it in Bristol Tennessee Schools. The plan would change the starting times of Tennessee High and Vance Middle School from 7:30 to 8:40 a.m., while elementary starting times would go from 8:10 to 8 a.m.

All it did was shift the start time to give the children more rest, kept the same hours, and would go home later. The Bristol, Tennessee Board of Education in February 2002 approved the motion 3-1 to hold a public hearing and final reading at its regular meeting on March 18.

One proponent said, "I believe that 7:30 a.m. is too early for a student to be at his or her best," wrote one parent of a Tennessee High student. "My husband and I can see no disadvantage to beginning classes an hour later," wrote a Vance parent.

Board member and sponsor Dr. Steven Morgan said "the time change is needed to better meet the sleep needs of teen-agers who, according to research, have difficulty falling asleep before 11 p.m. Morgan is a Bristol neurologist, based his recommendation on a University of Minnesota sleep study and information gathered previously by the ZZZ's to A's committee.

What wasn't brought up was the detrimental impact of student employment on academics. To quote, A U.S. Census report estimated that 2.9 million people, mostly students, between the ages of 15 and 17 work during the school year. But more troubling than the number of hours students work is the time of day they work, educators said.

"They're working too long and too late," said Ed Lockett, a Tennessee High art teacher. "They come into school dead-dog tired because they didn't get in bed until midnight." Teachers regularly battle students' fatigue and their inability to focus on the day's lesson.

It's a trend that has become more noticeable in recent years, Lockett said, because stores require students to stay late."

One local senior has two jobs, one at Arby's and another at the Waffle House and works nearly 40-hour weeks. He has two B's and an A in his classes but admitted his grades were higher before he worked so much. "I used to be a very good student," he said. "My grades were affected by the jobs. It's hard to balance all three." Besides grades, students admitted to exhaustion... (Bristol Herald Courier Apr 25, 2004)

So a poll was conducted and the results are really no surprise. Parents, students, teachers, bus drivers, former students and others connected to the school system gave written comments during a two-week period that ended March 4. Of the 837 people who responded, 686 opposed the plan while only 113 respondents approved it, the remainder undecided. 82% said no and the screams and excuses was deafening.

Opponents attacked the Minnesota research and said "that the change would not afford any additional sleep for students who would have to stay up later to complete homework assignments," but here are the real reasons: "the change would disrupt the schedules of extra-curricular activities like sports and band and cause problems for students with after-school jobs or those who baby-sit younger siblings." Many of the opponents used phrases like "strongly disagree" and "vehemently oppose" and called the plan a "great mistake" and "a horrible idea."

One student called it "horrible change," because of the soccer schedule, homework often does not begin until after 10:30 p.m. "This would not help me academically, but hinder me." Another whined that many students who oppose the change might support it if school ended before 3:40 p.m...Another parent wrote that they are "in favor of the later starting time for middle and high school students as long as it does not interfere with team sports." Several parents said that they should not have to be told to control their children's sleep habits...

The whole proposal went down in flames. Football out scores academics in Bristol Tennessee. Ref. Mar 12, 2002, Bristol Herald Courier.