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COUNCILMEMBER GYM STATEMENT ON CHANGES TO SCHOOL DAY START AND END TIMES

In Council News, Helen Gym, News by PHL Council

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Councilmember Helen Gym (At Large) issued the following statement on the recent decision by the School District of Philadelphia to change the start and end times of most public and charter schools for the coming school year:

Like many of you, I was taken by surprise at the School District’s announcement that most high school students would start at 7:30am and most elementary school students would start at 9:00am. This announcement flies in the face of what we know about child development, it raises concerns about after school options and coordination, and it once again strains the public trust because of the lack of engagement and limited public discussion of such a major change.

The start of the 2021-2022 school year should be a year focused on re-engagement of youth, and an investment in the academic and emotional supports needed after 16 months of predominantly virtual learning. More than anything else, it should be a year focused on stability and predictability.

A 7:30 a.m. start time for high school teenagers makes no sense. High schools around the nation are starting high school later, not earlier. Not only does a 7:30 am mandatory start time reject every known study – and Superintendent Hite’s own admission – that teens should start high school later in order to boost student achievement, it also raises massive alarms about whether this will in fact increase truancy and absenteeism at the high school level. A child waking up for school an hour later may simply not show up rather than deal with the hassle of missing class.

An earlier dismissal time at 2 p.m. also raises serious concern about coordinated after school programs and options. 40,000 teenagers who are out of school an hour earlier is an issue for the city to discuss as a whole. I have frequently spoken about the need for a staggered departure schedule to ease the pressure on public transit and to prioritize student and public safety. A mandatory earlier start time makes that option even more difficult.

The later start to elementary school is also of grave concern. By forcing high schools at such an early hour, many teens who care for their younger siblings in elementary school are no longer available to them. Working parents of elementary schoolers are now faced with the prospect of being unable to drop children at school and also get to work on time.

Our schools are part of a larger community. These decisions cannot be made in isolation — they have a major impact on public transit, employers, afterschool programs, as well as hundreds of thousands of public school parents, students, teachers, and school staff

Time and again, the District falls short of a basic responsibility: Seeking public input before decisions happen, not after. We must go back to the drawing board to develop schedules that are in the best interest of our students and our city.

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