Evanston news delivered free to your inbox! 

A decision made by School District 65 administrators to change the start and end times of all the schools starting next fall sparked a flurry of e-mails over the weekend and an outcry at the Feb. 2 Board meeting about the process used in seeking parents’ input on the changes. Superintendent Hardy Murphy said the administration changed the start and end times to expand the instructional time for elementary schools by 10 minutes a day and for middle schools by 20 minutes a day, something that had been negotiated with the District Educators Council (the teachers union) in the collective bargaining agreement reached late last year. The administration concluded that two options would be feasible in terms of managing the schools and that would not raise busing costs. One option was to keep the start times of all the schools essentially the same and tack on an extra 10 or 20 minutes to the end of the day for the various schools. The second option changed the start times of all schools: elementary schools would start at 8 a.m., instead of 9 a.m.; middle schools would start at 8:30 a.m. instead of 8:05 a.m.; and the magnet schools would start at 8:50 a.m. instead of 8 or 8:05 a.m. Dr. Murphy said the administration selected the second option because the later start time for middle schools provided for the developmental sleep needs of adolescents, and teachers reported that elementary students were more alert early in the day. He said the administration did not conduct a parent survey on the issue, but solicited input from principals, who were asked to obtain input from teachers and parents in their respective schools. Dr. Murphy said the administration did not want to have a vote on the issue, but wanted to surface all of the issues and concerns on the proposed changes. School Board member Keith Terry said, “The most troubling aspect is the magnet schools were not queried. … To say we talked to PTAs, that’s simply not true, especially Bessie Rhodes and King Lab.” Board member Bonnie Lockhart said Board members had received numerous e-mails on the proposed changes. She said, “I think the decision is going to affect everything that we do. It’s a big change and I think the Board should vote on it.” About 50 parents attended the Feb. 2 School Board meeting, 16 of whom spoke out against the process. Mindy Wallis, president of the PTA Council, said, “A change in school start times is one of the most significant that a family can face. It impacts everything from mealtimes, to bedtimes, to the amount of time that parents spend with their children, not to mention the financial impact caused by the changes in child care schedules. A decision like this, which will affect every family in the District, is one that should be taken with a maximum of care and consideration.” Ms. Wallis said an informal survey of PTA presidents in the District showed some schools received information in a timely fashion and received feedback and others did not. She questioned, “Why didn’t the administration simply send a letter home to all the parents explaining the options and asking for personal preferences and feedback?” Ms. Wallis, as well as numerous other parents, urged the Board to solicit feedback from parents before finalizing the decision. Dr. Murphy acknowledged, “Absolutely, this is a major change for this District.” He defended the administration’s decision and the process used, but said, “If this is a decision that is going to destabilize us…then I think perhaps we reconsider this.” He added, “If this is one of those things that’s going to turn into something leaving bitterness in the mouths of people who are involved, if people walk out of here feeling like they’re dealing with an administration and School Board that’s not listening to them, that’s not the way we want to end this meeting tonight.” The Board decided to hold a public hearing on the issue on March 3, and to vote on it on March 10.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...