Heather Hills Elementary School parents say a meeting on Wednesday regarding plans to start the Bowie school 25 minutes earlier failed to provide sound reasons for making the change — so they are reaching out to city and Prince George’s County school officials in hopes of getting more answers.
“I’m even more upset,” said Rachel Edwards, mother of a second-grader at the school. “The meeting was pointless.”
About 25 parents attended the Parent Teacher Organization meeting to learn more about the proposed change in start time from 8:20 a.m. to 7:45 a.m., but many said they did not receive sufficient reasons regarding why the change is being considered.
PTO members said they are drafting a letter to the Prince George’s County Public School System and Bowie City Councilman Todd Turner (At-large) seeking further explanation. Turner has a child attending the school.
“We’re not going to lay back and see what happens,” said Dawn Wampler, PTO president. “People were very open with their concerns.”
The final decision regarding the start time should be made before the end of the school year in June, said Principal Patsy Hosch.
Hosch said the school system’s transportation department prompted the decision to switch the start time in a system wide effort to reduce the number of late buses by staggering start times. Schools could choose between a 7:45 or 9 a.m. start time.
Tony Spruill, acting director of transportation for PGCPS, said the department is reviewing and tweaking routes in advance of the 2013-2014 school year.
About 15 students walk to Heather Hills while more than 370 students ride to the school on buses from places such as Laurel, Glenn Dale and Lanham, Spruill said.
School officials said the change could also reduce students’ commute time.
Bus rides for some can take as long as an hour and with school ending around 2:25 p.m. students can get home around 4 p.m. and avoid some rush hour traffic, parents and officials said.
“With them doing a new transportation schedule, my hope is that will put more buses on this route, and it won’t be dark when [students] get home,” Hosch said.
Spruill said ways to enhance the routes, including adding buses, is still being reviewed.
School staff met in April and supported the earlier start time, said Hosch, who added that she did not consult with parents as she was not directed by the school system.
With some teachers having second jobs, families and other activities, the earlier time worked better, she said.
“All of us have lives wrapped around the current bell schedule,” she said. “We would prefer it earlier rather than late.”
Teacher’s second jobs shouldn’t be a major factor in scheduling discussions, Edwards said.
“The children’s needs come before the teachers’ needs,” Edwards said. “That should be our No. 1 concern.”
Wampler said the PTO should have been part of the conversation earlier, she said.
“The county should have at least provided a forum where they could have heard and listened to our concerns,” she said. “At this point, the biggest thing is gaining more information.”