Following feedback from parents and board members, the Savannah-Chatham County school board voted 5-2-0 on the bell schedule for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years.
The reason for the change is due to the student transportation issues caused by the bus driver shortage in the district. District 7 school board member Michael Johnson and District 8 Tonia Howard-Hall were the only board members who voted no.
To meet busing needs throughout the district, Godley Station, New Hampstead, and Rice Creek K-8 schools, Mercer Middle School and 12 elementary schools will have new bell times. The matter was supposed to be discussed during an April regular school meeting, but was pulled.
From earlier this year: Savannah public schools bus driver shortage continues, affects choice school students
Tammy Perkins, transportation lead director, said the district still doesn’t have enough bus drivers to transport students and transportation will not be offered to students who attend choice schools.
The district has 220 bus routes and 247 drivers but with an average of 15 call-outs by drivers per day and 25 drivers out on family medical leave, the district doesn’t have enough to cover bus routes. “Our uncomfortable truth is that we don’t have enough drivers,” Perkins said. As replacements, the district used paraprofessionals, school administrators, and other staff to drive the buses.
Bus transportation will be provided to students are in priorities 1, 2 and 3. Priority one are students with IEP or 504 that requires Special Transportation Services, ESOL students and homeless students. Priority two is zoned for elementary and K-8 students, while priority three is for middle and high school students.
Changing the bell schedules is to make the bus route more effective and improve student arrival times. Perkins said students have come to school as late as 20 minutes.
Perkins noted that with Godley Station starting at an earlier time, it will allow those buses from that school to pick up students for Rice Creek or New Hampstead.
Perkins said the district will continue the opt-in option for parents to choose if their children are riding the bus.
‘Not going to work for working parents’: Concerns shared
“An 8:40 a.m. start time is not going for work for working parents,” Amy Carter said during the Wednesday board meeting.
“You should not have seven- and eight-year-olds standing at the bus stop by themselves at 8:10 or 8:15 in the morning because mom had to be at work, that should not be happening.”
Carter said the last time the district made a change it was in July when parents aren’t as involved in the school district matters.
Her main concerns with the proposed bell times was how it affects parents work schedules and extracurricular activities for middle school students at the K-8 schools. She said it should be on the same schedule as the middle schools.
“It just creates a lot of hardships for families, and it is said that they would try to slip this one past us like this.”
Speaking at the board meeting, Stephanie Morgan raised concerns about the bell schedule. She has children that attend New Hampstead K-8 and asked for the district to vote no on the action.
Her child doesn’t ride the bus, but the change would effect transportation issues not for her family, but for others in the district.
“This proposed time will cause more students to need to ride the bus because their parents won’t be able to take them. This isn’t helping transportations problem and this is not the solution.”
Morgan said the times will also cause issues for parents looking for before- and after-care options for children and how long a child has to wait before getting home from school. She said her children sit in a car for 45 minutes before rushing home to see their father.
“If this proposal passes, you will be making it so my children will never see their father other than on his days off.”
Board members voice concerns, approval
Several school board members raised their concerns about the new bell time, which has younger students starting school at 9:15 a.m. and ending at 4:00 p.m.
“I remain very concerned about a later time for elementary students,” District 1 school board members Denise Grabowksi said.
District 8 board member Tonia Howard-Hall said she would like to see the survey results from Rice Creek and Godley Station K-8, and New Hampstead because west Chatham County has the most significant impact.
“I do have lot of reservations for the late start times at Rice Creek,” she said.
In voting no, Michael Johnson was concerned about younger students starting school later and local employers firing people because they are late because they had to take their child to school.
“It’s going to seriously effect people’s jobs,” he said.
Johnson also said he was concerned about students going to after-school activities.
District 5 school board member Irene Gadson-Hines said she had no concerns with students getting on the bus at a later time and the district is trying to be accommodating to parents in the district.
“We have tried to get out there in what the situation would be and I think (the district is) working very hard in transportation, trying to serve as many children as you possibly can,” Gadson-Hines said.
After the vote, Morgan said she was disappointed in the school board’s decision and they ignored concerns from parents.
“It’s frustrating…I already had parents messaging me and they are frustrated. The district has proven through COVID (that) there is nothing we can do as parents.”
The new schedules says Godley Station will hold classes from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., New Hampstead at 8:40 a.m.-3:40p.m. and Rice Creek from 9:00 a.m. to 4 p.m., so the schools can become aligned within their respective geographic areas resulting in improved routing efficiencies and on-time arrivals.
Mercer Middle School will start classes at start at 8:15 a.m. and end at 3:15 p.m.
Bell times at 12 elementary schools will be 9:15 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.: Bloomingdale, Butler, Gadsden, Garden City, Gould, May Howard, Jacob G. Smith, School of Humanities at Juliette Gordon Low, Pooler, Pulaski, Shuman, Windsor Forest elementary schools.
The goal is to have all elementary schools on the same schedule in order to have them on the same schedule.
Bianca Moorman is the education reporter. Reach her at [email protected] or 912-239-7706. Find her on Twitter @biancarmoorman.
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Savannah-Chatham schools approve new bell times changes