LONG BEACH - Parents and teachers filled the auditorium Tuesday at Stanford Middle School to voice their concerns over the Long Beach Unified School District's plan to change school start times this fall.
Among the major changes, district officials have proposed a controversial plan to start all high schools an hour later next school year based on research that shows students benefit academically by starting school later in the morning.
The plan, which would also make adjustments to schedules for elementary, middle and K-8 schools, has been met with mixed reactions from those concerned over student safety and conflicts with work schedules and extracurricular activities.
An online district survey directed at parents showed respondents split evenly on the issue. Of 1,700 individuals who responded, 50 percent were in favor of the change, while 50 percent were opposed.
On Tuesday, the Board of Education held an informational meeting at Stanford where dozens of parents, students and staff members expressed their concerns before the board. The board kept its opinions to itself Tuesday but could make a decision as soon as next week.
Some teachers and administrators said the changes would put student safety in jeopardy. They said many students would be dropped off early by working parents and would have to wait at school unsupervised.
Others would have to walk home in the dark due to the later release time, they said.
Parents said the later bell would cut into homework and dinner time and would create a logistical nightmare for sports and extracurricular schedules.
Marci Melnick, who drives her two children to school at Longfellow Elementary in the mornings, said the changes would be difficult for many working parents.
"How many parents who drive their kids to school in the mornings would have to face additional costs for child care because of their work schedules," she asked. "I'm a single mom and I have to work and I know this change would be hard for me."
District officials said over 80 schools nationwide have adopted late start times with results such as improved attendance, less tardiness, improved behavior and fewer students seeking help for stress. In addition, the district could save more than $1 million in transportation costs through bus schedule adjustments, officials said.
The district has proposed two possible plans. Under Plan A, all high schools would start at 8:50 a.m. instead of the current 7:50 a.m. The day would recess an hour later at about 3:40 p.m.
Middle schools would start at 7:50 a.m. and recess at 2:30 p.m.
Elementary schools would start at 8 a.m. or 9 a.
Under Plan B, high schools would start at their regular time of 7:50 a.m. Middle schools would start at 9 a.m. and recess at 3:40 p.m.
Elementary schools would start at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m.
California school districts that have made similar changes include Las Virgenes Unified, Palo Alto High School District, Oak Park Unified and Newport-Mesa Unified.
Speaking before the board, Joe Boyd, executive director of the Teachers Association of Long Beach, urged the district to hold off on making changes for the 2013-2014 school year in favor of gathering more information on how the changes would affect individual schools.
"Is this a good idea? We don't know because the district at this time is unable to provide clear information on how this will impact each school," Boyd said.
Several students said the later release time would cut in to sports activities and quality time with family and friends.
"I like spending time not just on homework but with my family and friends," said Stanford eighth-grader MacKenzie Dean-Grady. "Sometimes it's what the kids need, not just what costs less or saves money."
Superintendent Chris Steinhauser and the board thanked the public for their feedback on Tuesday. The board could vote on the possible changes in its next meeting next Tuesday.
"We have a tough decision to make but we really appreciate your input and taking your time to come to this event," said Board President Jon Meyer.