Atlanta Public Schools launches survey amid start-time outcry

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring speaks after she was worn-in during the Swearing-In Ceremony at Atlanta Public Schools Headquarters in Atlanta on June 30, 2020.  (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring speaks after she was worn-in during the Swearing-In Ceremony at Atlanta Public Schools Headquarters in Atlanta on June 30, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Atlanta Public Schools created a survey to gather public input following sharp criticism over a recent announcement that the high school day would start earlier come August.

Superintendent Lisa Herring notified parents in a May 7 letter that high schools would start at 7:45 a.m. next school year, 45 minutes before the current morning bell.

She said the change was needed to accommodate transportation schedules, which shifted because the district is adding 30 minutes onto the elementary school day to help students who’ve struggled academically during the pandemic.

Parents and students blasted the move, citing an American Academy of Pediatric recommendation for high schools to start at 8:30 a.m. or later to give teens time to get the sleep they need.

During a virtual town hall meeting on Thursday, Herring said she’s open to feedback.

“Our intent at this juncture has been to pause and engage more with the community,” she said.

Parents, students, staff and community members have until June 3 to respond to a survey that offers two start-time options, including one that’s later than the current high school plan. Herring said she’d provide an update at the June 7 school board meeting.

ExploreAtlanta students, parents push back on earlier high school start time

A widely distributed letter opposing the schedule changes and calling for the district to grant schools more flexibility in how they implement academic interventions amassed more than 2,000 signatures in just a few days, said APS parent Sara Zeigler.

And, more than 2,700 people signed an online petition created by North Atlanta High School sophomore Matan Berg that calls for APS to reverse the start-time decision. He watched Thursday’s hour-long meeting, and said afterwards that the district waited too long to involve the public.

That criticism was repeated numerous times in the online chat that accompanied the virtual town hall.

Still, Berg appreciates “the fact that they listened to thousands of people” and are offering an option now “that follows the science more closely.”

Herring acknowledged “that in a better and best practice” holding such a meeting before the bell schedule announcement “is the most ideal.”

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The survey asks respondents to choose between two proposals for bell schedule changes.

One option is identical to the schedule Herring announced earlier this month. It calls for high schools to start at 7:45 a.m. and elementary schools to start at 8:30 a.m., instead of 8 a.m. The middle school start time would remain unchanged at 9:05 a.m.

The survey also offers a second option: Start high school at 8:45 a.m., middle school at 9:15 a.m., and elementary school at 7:45 a.m.

Berg plans to vote for the 8:45 a.m. high school start time, which he said supports what research shows.

“It would allow teens to sleep more. It would allow the 73% of teens who already don’t get enough sleep to at least get a chance,” he said. “Science indicates that we need more sleep now.”